Above: Di Winkler, CEO of the Summer Foundation.
By Stephen Easton
Despite $244 million and five years, a government program that aimed to get younger people out of aged care has fallen well short of achieving its main objective, and is unlikely to succeed without significant changes to the system that puts them there, a study of the program’s effectiveness has found.
The study, published in the current edition of Australian Health Review, found the Younger People in Residential Aged Care Program (YPIRAC) has been largely unsuccessful, over the first four years since it was established by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in 2006.
While YPIRAC aimed to achieve, at best, a net reduction of 689 in the number of people with a disability under the age of 50 living in residential aged care, it only managed to reduce the total number by 139 in its first four years, according to the study.
According to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 1,007 people under the age of 50 were living in residential aged care in June 2006, and 715 in June 2010.
Di Winkler, the study’s lead author and CEO of the Summer Foundation, said that while the YPIRAC program had improved the lives of some young people with disabilities, it had not demonstrated an effective way to change the situation going into the future.
“The lives of those who have been helped by the program have been enormously improved however the program is unlikely to result in a long-term reduction in the number of young people in aged care,” Ms Winkler said in a statement released by the Summer Foundation.
“[…] Without systemic change and sustained investment in alternative accommodation options, we will continue to deny young people the right to live in an environment that meets their social, emotional and developmental needs.”
The study was based on interviews with health professionals, disability workers, advocacy organisations and public servants from each state and territory who were involved in the implementation of the YPIRAC program.
Participants told the researchers there were not enough accommodation and support options being developed through the program to meet the needs of all the young people currently living in aged care facilities and those at risk of admission, let alone to meet future demand.
Those interviewed also believed the program was not developing the right mix of different of accommodation types and support options to meet the diverse needs of younger people with disabilities.
“I held high hopes for there being some really creative thinking about different models . . . and the reality of what they’ve done so far in terms of moving people out of institutions is, you know, for a lot of people, they just moved them into smaller institutions,” Maree from Victoria told researchers in an interview quoted in the research paper. “That’s what’s so disappointing about it.”
The study holds that two key factors must be addressed to significantly reduce the number of young people in residential aged care (RAC) in Australia.
“First, there needs to be a dramatic increase in both the range and number of supported housing options. Second, there needs to be systemic change to stem the flow of young people into RAC facilities,” it concludes.
“Although the current initiative is a great start, it will not result in the long term reduction of young people in RAC.
“In 2006, this program was presented as a ‘first step’. Developing the scale and range of accommodation options required to resolve the issue of young people living in or at risk of admission to RAC will require a whole of government approach with the housing, health and disability sectors working in partnership.”