Opinion: Warning bells are ringing

We need reform now to get the right number of aged care beds in the right locations, says CEO of ACCV, Gerard Mansour.

Above: CEO of ACCV, Gerard Mansour

It is no surprise to our aged care industry, which is calling for urgent reform, that hospital beds are being taken up by our older Victorians who desperately need access to care services, either in their own home or in aged care homes. For some time our industry has been struggling to get the right number of aged care beds in the right locations across Victoria.

Strange as it may seem, Victoria actually has the lowest occupancy rate of older people in aged care with just 92 per cent of aged care beds being occupied at any one time. But this masks a much more complex story where is oversupply in certain areas and yet undersupply in other locations.

One core point of agreement is that older Australians should only remain in hospitals when it is necessary and there is an increasing urgency for fundamental reform, demonstrated in the release of this data. This hospital bed report is another warning bell that there must be government action on aged care reform as well as multi-party support.

The recent Commonwealth budget failed to provide any short-term relief for our aged care industry that cares for over 200,000 older or frail Victorians, both in their own homes and in aged care homes.

Why are older people being held up unnecessarily in hospitals? The answer is threefold. Firstly it is the mismatch between geographic supply and demand caused by an aged care system desperate for reform.

The second reason is a much more personal one, where many older people and their families find the conversations about frailty all too hard. Who wants to grow old or admit that age ‘does weary them’ and external assistance may be needed? It would be far easier to ‘take the bull by the horns’ and find external support, either in the home setting, or an aged care home, long before a personal crisis occurs.

And thirdly, the inadequate financial model means increasing aged care providers are slowing down their building programs across Australia at the very time there should be growth.

So now I ask; why it is so difficult for the needs of our frail older Australians to get to the top of the political agenda? Is it that out frail older Australians have become a bit too much ‘out of sight and out of mind’ for our community at large?

Like years before, the 2011 Budget had other priorities which ranked ahead of aged care. In the wash up of another federal budget, it is a good time to reflect on what lies ahead for frail older Australians who may wish to call upon the aged care industry.

It is clear, under current policy settings, the industry cannot cater for the fact that the number of people needing access to aged care services will more than double in the next 20 years. The data presents a compelling case that aged care needs to be ‘top of the pops’ in 2012.

In its submission to the Productivity Commission (PC), the Department of Health and Ageing estimates that our aged care industry will need to build 82,500 new aged care beds in the next decade, as well as update ageing infrastructure. This additional cost is estimated to be more than $17billion of capital funding. This indicates the magnitude and importance of government policy settings changing.

Against this backdrop, we have already seen a relative slowing in the industry building program on the national stage as there is a growing gap between funding and costs of construction. Last year when 8,000 residential aged care beds were offered nationally by government, the industry only took up 5,600, a shortfall of nearly 30 per cent. This does not bode well.

Then consider that from an in-home community care perspective, the failure to provide adequate annual funding increases to offset rising costs has resulted in a reduction, in real terms, of nearly 20 per cent in the hours of service delivered as in-home care.

Why is the plight of the aged care industry of importance to our community? Because it is our industry that aims to be there when older Australians or their families call for additional support either in their own home or in residential care homes.

But many Australians don’t want to think about, yet alone plan for, the reality they might need extra help and care when they are older and more frail. There comes a time when many in our community cannot survive without additional support either in their home or a residential aged care home.

At the end of June this year the PC will release its long awaited final report into the aged care system – Caring for older Australians. Most importantly the PC has already confirmed what the industry has said for some time: the aged care system needs access to greater investment by government and older Australians. Government controls pricing, allocates places, regulates the industry and controls supply.

This is the time for our community to send a message to government that later this year they need to invest in aged care reform and that 2012 must be the aged care budget.

Gerard Mansour, CEO, Aged & Community Care Victoria (ACCV)

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1 thought on “Opinion: Warning bells are ringing

  1. Industry associations need to get more fight in their belly and adopt the tactic of the union movement, where the organised and noisy minority receive more support.

    If industry started to withdraw providing services for high care residents where funding is inadequate, and bonds are not permitted then government would be forced to fund services more adequately.

    Last year (2010-2011) industry got 1.7% indexation when wages increased by 3-4% and energy costs went up by more than 20%.

    For 2011/2012 wages are going up more than 3.5% , energy costs up 15-20%. What lobbying is the industry doing for the 2011/2012 indexation ?. Probably not much !

    Whilst the industry continues to offer much needed high care services without restraint, government will continue to fund only the bare minimum.

    In the meantime federal government found $300m for set top boxes. Shows you where the its priorities lie !

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