The government has announced that planned aged care measures will be put on hold to divert resources to the coronavirus response.

The trial of a new aged care assessment tool and classification model and the 2020 funding round for residential aged care places are both postponed, Minister for Aged Care Richard Colbeck announced on Friday.

The government committed $4.6 million to trial the Australian National Aged Care Classification (AN-ACC) tool in February 2019 as part of its work to come up with a new funding tool for residential aged care (read more here).

Richard Colbeck

The AN-ACC trial has completed more than 7,000 assessments across 120 facilities, but would not run in any new sites until further notice, Mr Colbeck said.

“So far, the trial has provided valuable information and insights into the AN-ACC assessment process and I know many facilities are still eager to participate when it recommences at a later date,” Mr Colbeck said.

The 2020 Aged Care Apporval Round, which was due to open in March, will be pushed back for at least six months, he said.

“The Government will work with aged care peak bodies and other key stakeholders to determine the precise timing of the next round,” Mr Colbeck siad.

“By delaying the 2020 ACAR, providers can concentrate their efforts on helping to slow the spread of COVID-19 instead of filling in application forms,” he said.

Application forms, guidance materials and resources will be published on the 2020 ACAR page when the round opens.

The implementation of the home care payment alignment project will also be postponed, Mr Colbeck said.

“The health and wellbeing of older people receiving aged care services is the overwhelming priority for the Government.”

“I thank aged care providers for their commitment to ensure continued quality of care for our senior Australians throughout this very difficult time,” Mr Colbeck said.

Aged and Community Services Australia CEO Patricia Sparrow said providers welcomed the announcement.  

Patricia Sparrow

 “We’re really appreciative of the fact that the government understands that providers now need to be 100 per cent focused on protecting residents and clients and making sure people are getting the services that they need,” she told Australian Ageing Agenda. 

“So these kind of changes going on hold is a really welcome step they’re taking to help providers focus on what they need to focus on at this point,” she said.

More funding for visitors scheme, telehealth

On Sunday, the government also announced $10 million for the Community Visitors Scheme, which aims to prevent aged care recipients from becoming lonely or socially isolated.

The funding supports the training of additional volunteer visitors who will connect with aged care recipients both by phone and online in light of new visitor restrictions.

Mr Colbeck said connecting with one another has never been more important.

“This support will ensure the most vulnerable Australians remain connected with family, friends and the vital support services they need,” Mr Colbeck said.

There is also $669 million in funding to allow Medicare-subsidised telehealth service for all Australians.

It allows aged care residents and people in their homes to use telephone and video calling to connect with general practioner and other services.

Mr Colbeck said the delivery of health services at home is a key weapon to stop the spread of coronavirus.

“Limiting unnecessary exposure of patients and health professionals to the virus through phone and video conferencing will be a necessary mechanism in ensuring we focus on saving lives and saving livelihoods,” he said.

Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe said dementia-specific education is needed to support the extra staff and volunteer visitors who will potentially be interacting with residential and home aged care recipients with dementia.

Maree McCabe

“People living with dementia are one of the most vulnerable groups in society at this time given their ability to understand the current restrictions and its impact upon their levels of engagement may be compromised” Ms McCabe said.

“It is critical that staff and volunteer visitors, who will connect with older people online and by phone, are trained and well-equipped to provide the best possible care for the 459,000 Australians living with dementia.”

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