The need for deep and lasting aged care reform

The need for deep and lasting aged care reform Main Image

02 February 2021

Here we are, the start of a new parliamentary year, but in many respects it is Ground Hog Day for this government – which means that nothing has changed in the lives of the precious people this government is bound to care for.

This government turns up year after year showing next to no progress on aged care and how we can better support the elders of our community.

Whether that care is in their own home or in a specialist facility.

In the midst of our country’s COVID-19 crisis last year, thousands of families – including mine – found themselves confronted by the Morrison Government’s complete failure to care for our elderly.

The interim findings of the Aged Care Royal Commission grabbed the headlines, but the bells had been ringing long before 2020.

It has been more than three years since the Serious Incident Response Scheme was first recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission.

The Carnell-Paterson review commissioned by the Government, in the wake of the Oakden nursing home tragedy, also recommended introducing the scheme.

The Morrison Government has taken far too long to introduce a response scheme that would respond to cases of assault and abuse in Australia’s aged care system.

At Oakden in South Australia, a 99-year-old woman with dementia was indecently assaulted – what more motivation does this government need?

How can the people in my electorate, indeed those right around Australia, trust this Government to properly respond to last year’s Royal Commission when it takes more than three years to respond to the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission and the Carnell-Paterson review.

Failures in this government’s system continue to be exposed – I want to weep but this government sits on its hands – promising to act but so far failing to deliver.

My own family has experienced these failures first-hand, but first I am keen to give a voice to the people of the Mighty Eden-Monaro, the people I serve.

Rhonda wrote to me recently.

Rhonda is a health professional with decades of caring experience.

She is now the primary carer for her mum, who is approaching 90.

Like many families, Rhonda’s mum wants to stay at home for as long as possible.

Like many, what we’ve seen unfold in many nursing homes around this country has left Rhonda and her mum feeling anxious about the prospect of nursing home care.

Let me give you a sense of what Rhonda shared with me.

“Mum is on a full pension and has a debilitating back injury from years of being a nurse.

“Two years ago, mum broke her leg which has further impacted her mobility. 

For several years, mum has been receiving a Community Home Support Package which has helped with cleaning and showering.

“In light of mum’s increasing care needs, and the subsequent financial demands, we organised an Aged Care Assessment Team assessment.   

“The assessment was conducted in April 2020 and mum was assessed as needing a Level 2 Home Care Package.

“In November 2020, mum was advised that as the funds were not available for Level 2 she would commence on a Level 1 package and we had 3 months to select a provider to manage the package. 

“Mum elected to remain with her existing provider – who have been very helpful.”

Their advice to Rhonda was to reject the Level 1 package because Rhonda’s mum would be at a financial disadvantage – she’d be out of pocket almost three thousand dollars per month.

As Rhonda said, “We waited 8 to 10 months in anticipation of financial support only to find out that mum could not actually afford to take up the package.”

Knowing that her mum’s needs are increasing, Rhonda has been looking at the higher level 3 and 4 packages.

She has been alarmed to hear that many people waiting for those higher care packages often die before the packages are made available to them.

Again, I weep for these families Mr/Madam Deputy Speaker, but this government watches on.

Rhonda asks, “I do not understand who actually benefits from these Home Care Packages if those on pensions cannot afford them, or die waiting?”

We’re talking about a woman who has served her community as a nurse, helping those in need throughout her whole life.

It is a total disgrace.

Sadly, Rhonda and her mum are not alone in Eden-Monaro.

The latest waiting list figures for Home Care Packages reveal just how broken our country’s aged care system is under the Morrison Government.

The waiting lists for home care packages across the country show that one hundred thousand older Australians are in desperate need of care.

In my electorate – more than eleven hundred people are waiting, that’s up from six hundred in the previous reporting period.

These figures are heartbreaking and reveal the pain and trauma many local families are feeling as they look to provide care and dignity to our loved ones.

The government says it has injected more money into the system – well people in Tumut, Queanbeyan, Cooma, Jindabyne, Bega and Narooma are yet to see or feel any improvement.

“More will be announced in the budget”, the Prime Minister says.

Mr Deputy Speaker – families don’t have the luxury of time, every moment counts in the days that we share with our elders.

At Braidwood, poor Norman, aged 90, has had to argue the point with the Aged Care Minister to get a provider to visit his regional community – which is about an hour up the road from here.

At one-point Norman went 11 weeks without his regular home care visit because the provider said it couldn’t service Braidwood.

As Norman told me, “I am 90 years of age and had a stroke twelve months ago, this leaves me in a difficult position, not to mention the rest of the folk who were getting the service.”

Thankfully, Norman’s service has been rebooted, but only after he jumped up and down.

Australia’s aged care system is broken when people like Norman and Rhonda can’t get the assistance they need and deserve.

Mr Deputy Speaker - the system has been broken since long before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic only served to put extra stress on the system – resulting in the death of hundreds of people.

My Nanny Hobby could have been one of them.

She did pass away in the middle on Victoria’s second wave, not as a direct result of the COVID, but the cracks in the system did not make her last month’s happy or comfortable.

Living with dementia, 91-year-old Gladys Hobson endured six negative COVID tests and the collapse of services at her original care home.

My family simply couldn't see her traumatised further and pulled her out.

She spent her last weeks free of the distress that was becoming such a feature of her day.

My family is very lucky that we had options and could get her into a better place.

What about the elders and families who don’t have those options?

These are the people and families who need this government to meet its duty of care.

We need to put the care of these fragile people at the heart of aged care reform – at the heart of government.

No one in my community has any confidence in the current system and day after day, the evidence mounts of serious neglect.

Another constituent in Eden-Monaro, Robyn, has written to me; “It seems to me that the amount of money allocated to each eligible aged care recipient is eaten up by administrative fees.

“The current model has created an industry at the expense of the aged care recipient.

“The service organisation is profiteering, while the aged care recipient either goes begging or is woefully under serviced.”

While another constituent, Belinda, writes: “It is just like a morbid lottery. It has nothing to do with care, and respect.”

And Frank writes, “The Royal Commission revealed the litany of abuse and neglect that the Coalition Government have known was occurring under their watch.

“This Government regards the aged as “leaners” on the budget

“As the Royal Commission reported - this neglect has led to the cruel fact that men over 85 years have the highest rate of suicide of any group in the country.”

Mr Deputy Speaker - when it comes to aged care the Morrison Government continues to hide from its responsibilities.

A decade of inaction will be further highlighted when the final report from the Aged Care Royal Commission is handed down later this month.

Money alone is not going to fix the problems Australians see every day.

There is no evidence from those opposite that the thinking and compassion needed to get us where we need to be is happening.

We are a trillion dollars in debt and some of the big reforms needed in this country are left untouched – this experience needs to count for something.

The need is evident to anyone with a heart, but so too is the opportunity.

Fixing the waiting lists and reforming aged care could be part of our recovery from bushfires and COVID-19.

Jobs in the care economy provide meaningful work – especially in country towns and clearly meet a desperate need.

These workers are doing their very, very best – it is the system that is broken.

Mr Deputy Speaker – My great hope is that this government finally hears the call of all Australians and does what we need it to do.

While the Serious Incident Response Scheme is very welcome and long overdue; we need deep and lasting aged care reform.

This needs to be just the beginning.

Because Australians deserve better.