Sector blind to cost of reforms

In failing to cost its recommendations, the royal commission left the sector unsure of how much money was needed for the reforms, says outgoing CHA chief.

In failing to cost its recommendations, the royal commission left the sector unsure of how much money was needed for the reforms, says outgoing aged care chief.

Pat Garcia – who steps away from his Catholic Health Australia chief executive role next month – told Australian Ageing Agenda: “We had no real way of knowing whether the amount of money the government was investing in aged care was sufficient or nowhere near enough.”

He added: “The lack of costing of the recommendations didn’t give the public or the government or the sector a sense of the scale of the problem.”

The royal commission also failed to unanimously address industry funding, said Mr Garcia. “There was no solution made as to how this was going to be resourced. And because of that, the government found it difficult to figure out the best way to fund the solution the commission had recommended.”

On the subject of funding, Mr Garcia has been a strong advocate for user contributions – an idea currently being considered by the newly established Aged Care Taskforce.

“I’m very pleased that the terms of reference for the Aged Care Taskforce specifically mentioned user contributions. I am hopeful that it is a good idea whose time has come,” said Mr Garcia. “I think it is one of the only palatable financing solutions available to us.

“And given the desperate need of the sector at the moment, anything that makes life just a little bit easier for providers and makes their operations just a little bit more sustainable is valuable and important to implement as soon as possible.”

Reflecting on his past four years as head of the peak body representing Catholic providers of health, community and aged care services, Mr Garcia told AAA the biggest challenge over that period was the pandemic.

“Covid, in many ways, added additional pressures to a sector that was already suffering from a range of sustainability issues – lack of PPE, lack of staff. And the amount of media attention that was focused on the aged care sector at the time made it very difficult for aged care providers, their carers, the residents and their families.”

The second biggest challenge was proceeding with the royal commission’s findings “and ensuring, where possible, that government really responded to the recommendations in a substantive way,” said Mr Garcia. “To some extent, we were successful in that. And in some extent, there is still much to be done.”

As for the achievements he’s most proud of, Mr Garcia mentions a number of CHA initiatives. “During Covid I was proud that we were able to run a campaign to thank carers because they were under significant pressure, and it was a nice thing to be able to recognise their contribution that time. Also, our campaign promoting vaccination. I thought that was an important thing for us to do, too.”

Mr Garcia is also proud of CHA’s input into the workforce debate. “I was lucky to have been invited to the jobs and skills summit last year,” he said. “The aged care sector has suffered a pretty significant decline in job applications over the last few years. There are significant work shortages in the city and in the regions.”

To bolster the workforce, Mr Garcia would like to see an increase in skilled migration. “We are in a competition with the rest of the world for healthcare workers. The World Health Organisation is estimating a 10-million deficit in healthcare workers by 2030. So it is important we get this right otherwise we could be left behind, and we are already starting to see the pressures of the workforce shortages in our sector.”

Although stepping away from CHA, Mr Garcia will remain in the Catholic health sector as group general manager public affairs and general counsel at St Vincent’s Health Australia.

Mr Garcia told AAA he’s looking forward to the new role. “St Vincent’s is a wonderful institution with incredible resources in public and private hospitals, in aged care, and in medical research. It is its own health eco-system in many ways and I am inspired by Chris Blake their CEO and his vision for the future and I’m looking forward to contributing to that.”

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Tags: catholic-health-australia, covid, featured, Pat Garcia, royal commission, st vincent's health australia, workforce,

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