Shadow Assistant Minister for Regional Health and Member for Mallee Anne Webster has called on the Government to examine its aged care reforms through a regional lens and abandon a cookie cutter approach to ensure the viability of smaller Aged Care centres.
In Mallee, Dimboola’s Allambi Elderly Peoples Home has announced its closure due to becoming unviable under the new registered nurse and care minutes policy settings.
Meanwhile the chief executives of Minyip’s Dunmunkle Lodge and Donald’s Johnson-Goodwin Memorial Homes have raised their concerns with Dr Webster about the ongoing operation of their 38-bed facilities.
“These organisations, and many of similar size across Australia, are not against change or providing better outcomes for their residents,” Dr Webster said.
“But these sweeping industry wide reforms don’t take that into account, they are a case of ticking a box on paper without looking at the practical reality of care in these settings.”
Dr Webster said the Federal Government’s new Star Rating system for Aged Care Facility quality was also flawed.
The system rates facilities on four sub categories: Residents’ Experience, Compliance, Staffing and Quality Measures.
“Under that system a facility that receives a two star compliance rating, which could be for something as simple as incorrect administrative paperwork or paperwork not lodged by a certain time, but it results in the facility being rated at no higher than two stars overall,” Dr Webster explained.
“In small country towns with limited resources facilities are at a disadvantage in terms of their rating – even if they rate five stars for the other three categories they will still be listed as two stars.”
The reforms follow the recommendations out of the Royal Commission into Aged Care that concluded in 2021.
Dr Webster said it had become apparent following discussions with smaller aged care homes that some of the recommendations were creating concerns.
“These homes are planning on how to provide minimum nursing and care minutes per day for each resident, including having a Registered Nurse in their facilities 24/7,” Dr Webster said.
“With a thin labour market making recruiting difficult for all industries and with already strained budgets to meet those staffing levels, there is a risk these centres will not be viable going forward. Urban centres can access agency nurses, especially in for profit large businesses, but that is not possible in small town not for profit centres.
“And this puts the future of residents and existing staff, some of whom who have been living in their local communities for decades, in doubt.”
Dr Webster said both the Donald and Minyip organisations had 5-6 Registered Nurses among their staff living in close proximity to the facility. These nurses manage resident care plans and clinical needs as well as communicating with doctors and allied health professionals.
“These duties are primarily carried out on weekdays, with the nurses operating on-call outside of that,” Dr Webster said. “They live 5 minutes away if needed, and this is a system that has worked very well in these facilities for years.
“Why should a system that works and keeps local people in care in their own town be closed down because of bureaucratic and inflexible red tape?”
Dr Webster has been in contact with Federal Minister for Aged Care Anika Wells on behalf of the Donald and Minyip facilities, relaying their concerns and calling for action.
“It is time for the Federal Government to take a step back and look at the true cost of this legislation,” she said.
“If smaller aged care centres are still providing excellent care for residents in their own town, then we need to look at ways to ensuring that can remain the case.
“Closing facilities down and relocating residents is not the answer. It is not the answer for the resident. It is not the answer for the families and friends of that resident and is not the answer for all the staff from that small town who provide that care.”