Seniors from non-English speaking backgrounds will be disadvantaged under consumer directed care reforms as they face paying a significant proportion of their home care package on translation and interpreting costs, providers and advocates have told Australian Ageing Agenda.
Elizabeth Drozd, CEO of Australian Multicultural Community Services, said the costs of translating a Home Care Agreement could be exorbitant, with one client receiving an estimate of $3,000 to translate their agreement into Polish, which would be equivalent to 40 per cent of the Level 1 home care package subsidy.
While the Federal Government has agreed to fund service providers to use the National Translating and Interpreting Services (TIS) to negotiate the Home Care Agreement, co-design the care plan and individualised budget, and to discuss monthly income and expenses statements, additional language support costs during care delivery and for the translation of key documents are not covered.
In these circumstances, all additional costs are paid for by the consumer through their packaged funds, which multicultural service providers and peak bodies have argued is inequitable.
Penni Michael, manager business development at DutchCare, a major ethno-specific provider, told AAA the added costs for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) clients diminished the value of their care package relative to mainstream clients.
“If the costs are to be paid out of a person’s consumer directed care package then there is a component of the package that will be absorbed by communication needs that is not required by someone who is an English-speaking elder,” she said. “Consequently, the package for a person from a non-English speaking background is of less value.”
To address this inequity, DutchCare and peak groups such as the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) are urging the Federal Government to fund the full costs of interpreting and translation services outside of a person’s home care package, for example through a language supplement.
Previously, these costs had been absorbed across an organisation, but now have to be accounted for in a client’s individualised budget.
FECCA said that as a legal document associated with a government-funded program, the costs of translating a Home Care Agreement should be borne by government.
Mary Patetsos, chair of FECCA’s Healthy Ageing Reference Committee, told AAA that consumers may be forced to choose between informed decision-making on the one hand and service delivery on the other.
“If you force that choice on them, they will either forfeit care services to pay for interpreting or forfeit interpreting services, which is forfeiting informed choice.
“If CDC is to be successful it needs to provide equity to all involved, especially to those who are most vulnerable,” she said.
Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria chairperson Eddie Micallef said the current arrangements contradict principles of access and equity.
“If home care package recipients are to exercise individual responsibility and make informed decisions they need to understand the information and services which are available to them.”
Mr Micallef called on the Federal Government to provide adequate funding to guarantee access to language services for consumers throughout all stages of a home care package.
Ronda Held, manager of Home Care Today at COTA Australia, told AAA she agreed there was a case for the government to consider a CALD supplement, which would also recognise the extra time required to work with an interpreter.
Ms Held said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities also faced similar challenges in terms of language support. She said an assumption was made that culturally and linguistically appropriate workers would be available in these communities, which was not always the case.
Ms Drozd agreed it was not always possible to secure bilingual care workers to overcome the need for an interpreter due to a mismatch between the languages spoken by aged care staff and CALD consumers.
She said her organisation had also experienced challenges with interpreters cancelling appointments and difficulties in coordinating the presence of an interpreter at the time when the client and their family are available.
Ms Drozd said that ensuring CALD clients had full access to interpreting and translation services was critical for building their capacity to direct and review their care package, especially in circumstances where a client has no family support.
Ms Held said these issues highlighted the strong need to support ethno-specific providers to remain viable as the sector moved to a more competitive market environment to ensure older CALD communities were supported to take advantage of consumer directed care.
Responding to these concerns, Assistant Minister for Social Services Mitch Fifield told AAA the Federal Government was looking at this issue in the context of the broader aged care reforms but it did not have any plans to expand TIS services beyond current arrangements.