The Federal Government has announced another half million dollars to extend measures for the aged care sector’s response to the pandemic including the controversial workforce retention scheme.

The $563 million funding was announced by Minister for Health Greg Hunt and Minister for Aged Care Richard Colbeck and on Monday and comes just 10 days since the previous boost of $171 million.

It includes another $154.5 million for the retention bonus,  $245 million for the per-resident support payment to facilities and an extension of the viability and homelessness supplements, bringing the government’s aged care pandemic response package to $1.5 billion to date.

The announcement comes as Victoria reports 1,209 active cases and a cumulative total of 3,997 cases in residential aged care in the state, the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre said on Tuesday.

It includes 1,787 residents, of whom 420 have died, 1,719 staff and 491 other close contacts.

The extension of the workforce retention will be based on employment at 30 November 2020 and continues with the same eligibility criteria as the July and September payments meaning it will only be paid to nurses, personal care workers and allied health workers.

Minister for Aged Care Richard Colbeck said on Monday the scheme aimed to encourage reluctant aged care staff to work when there is a case of COVID-19 in the facility.

Richard Colbeck at Monday’s press conference

“We need to send a message to our workers in residential aged care that they are very important, they are important to us, they are important to the people they work with and this is one of the ways  the government is seeking to do that,” Mr Colbeck told Monday’s press conference in Canberra.

“We need our aged care workers to come to work, the people in the residential facilities rely on that, we rely on that and the care that… aged care residents get is dependent on that,” he said.

However, Mr Colbeck was only referring to some residential aged care workers.                                      

A spokesperson for Mr Colbeck confirmed to Australian Ageing Agenda on Tuesday that the third payment will be paid in line with the eligibility of the first two payments under the current grant guidelines.

Not extending the payment to all facility workers such as those working in the kitchen, laundry and administration has brought the ire of provider and workers peak bodies, aged care organisations, and facility workers from all roles who say the bonus is divisive and unfair.

In regards to the other new measures, the $245 million boost to the COVID-19 Support payment to all aged care facilities builds on the $205 million paid in June 2020.

Facilities will receive another $975 per resident in metropolitan areas and $1,435 per resident in other locations by early October.

Providers must use this to fund and support enhanced infection control capability, including through an on-site clinical lead, and can also be used to address other COVID-related costs, including increased staffing costs and managing visitation arrangements.

Providers are required to report how the funds are used for COVID-19 related costs through strict requirements in providers’ end of financial year returns.

The commonwealth is also extending the 30 per cent increase to the viability and residential aged care homeless supplements by six months.

Support for the workforce, families

The latest funding also includes $92.4 million to extend the grant that supports Victorian aged care workers to work at one facility from eight to 12 weeks.

The government is providing an additional $71.4 million to the Community Home Support Program to support residents who have temporarily left an aged care facility to live in the community.

Minister for Health Greg Hunt told the press conference the funding would help continue the fight and protect older Australians.

He said the goal is “to save lives and protect lives within our aged care facilities and across Australia.”

Peaks welcome additional funding

Aged and Community Services Australia CEO Patricia Sparrow welcomed the continuation of initiatives to help aged care providers through COVID.

Patricia Sparrow

“The fact they’ve continued them and that there is funding to offset the costs is absolutely fantastic and we think that’s good,” Ms Sparrow told Australian Ageing Agenda.

However, Ms Sparrow said the funding fell short of the $1.3 billion emergency intervention that ACSA and six other national organisations representing aged care providers called for in April.  

“We did request a significantly higher amount…. for the sector and it still remains at a lower level than what we originally asked for, but… everything helps and it’s welcome,” Ms Sparrow said.

Ms Sparrow said it was disappointing that the government had not expanded the eligibility of the staff retention bonus.

Sean Rooney

“It’s great that there is a payment for workers and we need to acknowledge… they are working in extraordinary circumstances and they are doing a fantastic job, but I think it’s unfortunate that there are workers who continue to be ineligible, even though they are also doing a great job,” she said.

Leading Age Services Australia CEO Sean Rooney told AAA the funding would only enable residential aged care services to maintain current levels of protection.

Omar Khorshid

“We look to work with the Government on further supports based on the lessons learned in our fight against COVID-19.

“This includes: expanding the retention bonus and paid pandemic leave programs; further supporting in-home care services; and providing clarity on single site working arrangements,” Mr Rooney said.

The Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid welcomed the funding and the government’s measures to ensure it is used as intended.

“Funding intended for employing clinical care leads in aged care homes must be spent for that purpose only, with accountability mechanisms in place to ensure it is,” Dr Khorshid said.

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