The Australian Labor Party has promised $100 million to expand access to culturally appropriate residential aged care for seniors from multicultural backgrounds if elected to government.
The Multicultural Aged Care Fund will provide funding towards new facilities and improvements at existing facilities that service ethnic communities throughout Australia, Labor outlined in its plan for multicultural Australia released on Wednesday.
The funding aims to ensure that seniors from culturally and diverse backgrounds (CALD) are in an environment where the language, food and surroundings are familiar to them, Labor said.
The announcement comes just days after George Akl called for policy change around access to communication, language and culture in the aged care system at the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.
Mr Akl told the inquiry on Monday about the experience of his Egyptian-born father, who lost the ability to communicate in English as his Lewy Body Dementia progressed despite being a highly educated engineer who spoke English since childhood.
However, Mr Akl said his father retained his ability to communicate in his first language, Arabic, until near the end of life, but that the aged care system was unable to adequately support his father’s loss of English, which was unfair.
“He went back to the culture of his childhood, the language of his childhood,” Mr Akl said.
A facility place where his father could speak his language, experience his culture and engage in his way of being would have been better, and while there were “a couple of places that had Arabic-speaking people working there irregularly” there wasn’t anywhere suitable, he said.
Mr Akl said his father loved to talk and when he couldn’t communicate with the people around him he became frustrated and it could trigger his psychosis.
“He didn’t lose consciousness of who he was or who I was or where he was or anything like that, maybe up until the [last] couple of weeks until he died. And that was really frustrating for him to have to be in a world where he couldn’t be himself, and he wasn’t ready to give that up. Like, he still had the ability to communicate, there just wasn’t a space for him to communicate properly,” Mr Akl said.
The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia, the national body representing Australians from CALD backgrounds, welcomed Labor’s election commitment to invest in culturally appropriate aged care facilities for Australia’s migrant communities.
FECCA Chairperson Ms Mary Patetsos said this proposed investment would help ensure more culturally appropriate aged care services were available to CALD seniors.
“Our consultations with culturally and linguistically diverse Australians have identified a range of barriers that they face in accessing appropriate quality aged care services,” she said.
“These include language barriers between CALD residents and staff, and in some instances a lack of understanding of residents’ cultural and faith backgrounds.
She said FECCA called for greater support for existing multicultural and ethno-specific providers and mandatory cultural competency training for all aged care workers.
$10m for CALD navigators
The Morrison Government has promised $10 million to create a dedicated network of Aged Care System Navigators to assist seniors from CALD backgrounds to understand and make the best choices in aged care if it is re-elected.
Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Ken Wyatt is due to make the announcement in Perth on Friday.
He said CALD people were less likely to access residential aged care services because of language barriers.
“The navigators initiative will help these seniors and their families make the right decisions when it comes to finding appropriate accommodation, securing residential care or Home Care Packages, understanding the financial implications and completing paperwork.”
The CALD-specific Navigator program will build on the $7.4 million Navigator trial launched earlier this year that includes dedicated community and online information hubs, and specially trained advisers offering one-on-one support to support seniors and their families.
The announcement has been welcomed by Theresa Kwok, the CEO of Chung Wah Association Community and Aged Care in Western Australia, which is participating in the Navigator trial.
“Navigators will become the natural ambassadors of our aged care services,” Ms Kwok said.
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