Delegates at the ACAA-WA forum discuss the state of the aged care sector during one of the breaks. 

By Dale Fisher

While it was heartening to see three federal politicians attending and taking questions at ACAA-WA’s Financial Sustainability Seminar in Perth last week, there was little joy for aged care providers desperate for government action. 

The day began with an address from a more confident and buoyant Justine Elliot, who appears to have morphed from an aged care crisis denier into a true believer. According to Minister Elliot, the government is now “clearly hearing” what the industry is saying. She maintains that all providers need to do is bombard the upcoming Productivity Commission inquiry with submissions and, in time, all will be resolved.

But as the Greens’ Senator, Rachel Siewert astutely pointed out, governments of either ilk don’t have a very good track record with implementing Productivity Commission findings. The Senator said she understands why aged care providers might be just a little cynical about what could be seen as yet another delaying tactic.

Shadow Minister for Ageing, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells also expressed her scepticism. Just a few days earlier, she had spoken with a Tasmanian provider who has made submissions to 17 different reviews in recent years. Despite the prolific feedback, that provider is still waiting for some action to address what Senator Fierravanti-Wells termed the aged care “melt down”. 

But while the Greens have at least issued a discussion paper and are looking for feedback in order to formulate their aged care policies ahead of the coming election, the Liberal Senator had to concede that at this point, her party is still at the consultation stage with its policies, “but hopes to be ready soon”.

While they appreciated the opportunity to engage with key federal politicians, the mood of the providers who attended could only be described as subdued. The prospect of a 30 per cent increase in the cost of utilities in WA, coupled with the three per cent increase to the minimum wage and the suspension of the Conditional Adjustment Payment (CAP), renders the recent announcement of a 1.7 per cent indexation rise a bitter pill for providers to swallow. It is certain to push even more residential care facilities into the red.

As Bethanie Aged Care CEO, Wayne Belcher, so succinctly asked the Minister,

“How can we survive?” 

The message is that the cost of care is no longer being covered and that immediate action needs to be taken. The prospect of waiting for the results of yet another review, which will take at least another year, is a devastating blow to providers who already feel trapped by an unworkable system.

Outside, soaking up the winter sunshine during a break, there was some inevitable talk of taking a more militant approach. But what can service providers do when almost any action they take is likely to affect the care of their residents.

It seems that the frustration and anger at being constantly ignored has turned to despair, and that providers are at a loss to know what to do, or where to turn.

Yet another “groundhog day” in aged care.

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