More than a quarter of aged care facilities have failed to apply for the COVID-19 staff retention bonus, which is limited to direct care workers because they are the most wary of working during an outbreak, a Senate inquiry heard this week.

The Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 held a public hearing on Tuesday into the aged care sector’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The inquiry heard that only 1,500 aged care facilities have applied for Federal Government’s controversial and divisive $235 million retention bonus scheme announced in March, leaving around 584 yet to apply.

So far, $54.7 million has been paid to providers and a further 500 applications have been approved for payment in mid-August, equating to an additional $48.3 million as of 31 July, the inquiry heard.

Katy Gallagher

Chair of the hearing Senator Katy Gallagher questioned the aged care minister on why the retention bonus was limited to direct care workers.

In response, Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians Richard Colbeck said it was because of comments from staff at Baptist Care’s Dorothy Henderson Lodge, where a COVID-19 outbreak began in March.

“What we found with Dorothy Henderson Lodge in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak was that people were very reluctant to come to work because of concerns about engaging with residents who had COVID-19,” Mr Colbeck told the inquiry.

Richard Colbeck

“It was a direct response to those particular workers who were providing direct care and were in direct contact with the residents of the facilities. That was the point of applying the retention bonus to those people, and they are still the people who we’re finding are reluctant to come to work,” he said.

Ms Gallagher asked whether the divide was setting two standards for aged care workers, separating those worthy of the bonus from those ineligible.

“What’s the difference for someone preparing breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks that are needed for aged care? What’s not direct about that level of care? The risk for them of being in the working environment would be similar to the risk for direct-care workers,” she said.

Mr Colbeck said the difference was the direct level of care they provided.

Ms Gallagher asked Mr Colbeck if the government would reconsider extending the retention bonus to all aged care staff.

Michael Lye

Department of Health deputy secretary, ageing and aged care Michael Lye stepped in to say the department was taking steps to contact those facilities yet to apply.

“Obviously we want to see facilities apply that haven’t yet applied,” Mr Lye told the inquiry.

Ms Gallagher asked Mr Colbeck to put the question about expanding the bonus on notice, which he agreed to do.

Minister tells AAA measure intended for direct care workers only

In response to Australian Ageing Agenda’s question about whether the government would consider expanding eligibility of the retention bonus, Mr Colbeck reiterated that the measure was focused on the role direct care workers have caring for people.

“The intent of the measure is about their usual role. If this staff member spends one hour a day providing direct care then this time is eligible.

“If they are only providing broad assessment processes, advice and office work then that is deemed ineligible,” Mr Colbeck told AAA.

Nicholas Brown

“Nurses performing an administrative role such as ACFI assessments will be ineligible for the payment,” he said.

Peaks reiterate calls to expand retention bonus eligibility

Provider groups, unions, the Federal Opposition, aged organisations and aged care workers in all roles are united in their calls for the retention bonus to be expanded to all people working in residential aged care.

Aged care provider peak bodies repeated their calls on Thursday.

Sean Rooney

Aged Care Guild acting CEO Nicholas Brown told AAA “all staff working on the ground in an aged care home are putting their own health at risk to ensure senior Australians are receiving the care they need.”

LASA CEO Sean Rooney told AAA excluding some staff from the bonus has been a “source of significant anger and distress among employees.”

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4 Comments

  1. All staff that work in aged care at some time during the day. Do direct care for residents. PCAs and Nurses have less direct care then some other Staff members. Like lifestyle they assist with residents eating, sit with residents for an amount of time, wash residents, massage residents, comfort residents and much more. Admin staff are in contact all the time coming face to face with residents who need their help. Cleaners go into residents rooms and clean their toilets, showers, beds, chairs and their rooms. Kitchen go into rooms to give coffee or tea, lunch and dinner. Laundry also go into residents rooms every day. Management also come face to face with residents that want to talk with them. Plenty more things that I have not mentioned here. THAT IS WHY ALL STAFF SHOULD GET THE RETENTION BONUS.

  2. If a facility has an outbreak then residents are isolated to their rooms along with minimal staff interaction. Care assistants are required to enter the quarantined room and perform hands on care ‘directly’ to the infected person. The care assistant is also taking the meals into the room as the resident won’t be attending the dining area. Nor will they be attending activities. Which is why LWO’s arnt entitled to the payment because, in the case of Covid/suspected Covid illness, they won’t be 1:1 face-to-face with the Covid resident. To reduce/minimise the risk of spreading the virus a resident should ideally be looked after by the same staff providing hands on physical care….if that isn’t your role, unfortunately, you don’t seem to be entitled to the payment.

  3. It is ridiculous to say that workers other than direct care workers will not come in contact with people with COVID-19. Contact may occur before the resident is suspected of having the virus but is still infectious. If the virus does occur in an aged care facility they will need all the help they can get and to say that existing workers who work in other areas of the facility will not be asked to help is also ridiculous.
    Also basing your decisions on who will be paid and who will not be paid on SOME not ALL people at ONE facility is also ridiculous. It is hardly an adequate sample!

  4. Minister Colbeck’s states – “The intent of the measure is about their usual role. If this staff member spends one hour a day providing direct care then this time is eligible”.
    Lifestyle workers spend most of the day physically assisting residents, yet they are not included. Pastoral carers can’t support people emotionally from a distance, and domestic staff share the same high risk of infection when handling dirty plates and linen. I wonder how it would work if all these disregarded employees decided to play it safe and sit at home on Job Saver!
    Law Insider: ‘Direct care staff means the staff whose primary job responsibilities are (i) maintaining the safety, care, and well-being of residents ‘ This definition clearly describes the responsibilities of all staff working within residential Aged Care.

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