Residential occupancy down and wait times up, report shows

The residential aged care occupancy rate hit a 10-year low last financial year, new government figures show, but the rate finding is at odds with a key industry report.

The residential aged care occupancy rate hit a 10-year low last financial year, new government figures show, but the rate finding is at odds with a key industry report.

The federal government spent $18.4 billion on aged care in 2017-18, including $12.4 billion on residential aged care services (67.3 per cent) and an increase from $17.6 billion the previous year, according to the Productivity Commission’s 2019 report on government services released on Tuesday.

During the year, 234,798 older people were in permanent care, 60,278 were in respite care and 958,854 received aged care and support services in their home.

At 30 June 2018, residential aged care occupancy was 90.3 per cent, which is the lowest rate recorded in the 10 years of data, the report shows.

However, the rate is below the 94.3 per cent occupancy rate that aged care benchmarking firm StewartBrown found for the same period in its year-end report on the financial performance of sector based on a survey of 974 facilities (read more here).

Grant Corderoy
Grant Corderoy

StewartBrown senior partner Grant Corderoy said the figures were different because the PC included and StewartBrown excluded particular data, such as on local and state government facilities.

The government-run facilities account for about 10 per cent of the sector and typically have an occupancy of around 85 per cent, Mr Corderoy said.

The second relevant reason is that StewartBrown calculates occupancy based on actual available beds in a facility, which for example might have 80 approved places but only 70 in use, he said.

“We do our percentage on the actual occupancy level of available beds rather than the approved places. In a way it is more accurate as far as the occupancy levels are,” Mr Corderoy told Australian Ageing Agenda.

“It is not a surprise that the figures are different. I wouldn’t be quoting their figures though.”

Wait times, accreditation and complaints

Elsewhere the PC’s report shows less than half of older people entered residential care within three months of their Aged Care Assessment Team approval (44.7 per cent) with the average waiting time increasing to 121 days in 2018 from 105 days in 2017 and 84 in 2016.

There were also 180,493 completed ACAT assessments in 2017-18, with each costing $681 on average, and 234,774 approvals for residential care and the home care packages.

As at 30 June 2018, 96.9 per cent of the 2,669 re-accredited residential aged care services had been given three-year accreditation, which is the longest period allowed.

However, during the financial year, 93.1 per cent of the 1,561 re-accredited services were given a three-year accreditation, the report shows.

Also at 30 June 2018, there were 75.9 residential care places per 1,000 people in the aged care planning population, which is people aged 70 years or over, or 74.4 per 1,000 older people if taking the population of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians aged 50–69 years into account.

The rate of places is higher in major cities (79.4) compared to regional areas (66.7) and remote or very remote areas (43.0), the report shows.

The report also highlights that throughout 2017-18, there were 5,779 in-scope complaints received in relation to aged care services.

Three-quarters of complaints were for permanent and respite residential care services (4,315), which equated to 23.1 complaints per 1,000 residents, the report says.

Stakeholder reaction

Provider peak Aged & Community Services Australia CEO Pat Sparrow said the figures were another demonstration of the very complex challenges facing the aged care industry and the nation’s our ageing population.

Pat Sparrow

“We could speculate that lower occupancy rates reflect the desire of people to remain at home for as long as possible but that could easily overlook other complex factors that need to be considered,” Ms Sparrow said.

“It’s for this reason that we are looking forward to the open discussions the Royal Commission will facilitate about critical issues like access, quality of care and funding sustainability.”

To confront the challenges head on, the discussion needs to start with an acknowledgement that caring for older Australians is a collective responsibility, she said.

Access the report here.

See also Government expenditure on home care rises

This story was updated on 25 January.

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