Aged care providers ask for even more as government pours extra funding into its COVID-19 response

Extra funding welcome but still not enough, say aged care providers

Aged Care Royal Commission
Government accepts all royal commission COVID-19 recommendations.

Government accepts all royal commission COVID-19 recommendations.

Aa

Government announces further $132 million COVID-19 specific funding for aged care.

Aa

Welcome but still not enough, is the private aged care sector's response to the federal government's commitment of a further $132.2 million in specific COVID-19 funding.

The Aged Care Guild wants the government to also immediately lift the Basic Daily Fee for aged care residents by $10 per day and increase care funding for all senior Australians in residential aged care.

The government has pledged an additional $63.3 million to support the mental and physical health of residents of aged care facilities, with $12.1 million of the funding to allow aged care residents to receive twice the number of the current subsidised allied health services including physiotherapy, occupational therapy and exercise physiologists, they could previously access under Medicare chronic disease management plans.

$35.5 million of the funding will allow aged care residents to access 20 individual psychological services under the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners initiative and $15.7 million will allow for allied health group services for residents living in facilities affected by COVID-19 outbreaks.

The government will also spend $57.8 million to support the costs of engaging infection prevention lead staff in facilities and a further $11.1 million toward a Serious Incident Response Scheme.

The funding is part of its response to the Aged Care Royal Commission' s COVID-19 report and brings federal COVID-19 specific funding for aged care to $1.7 billion.

The royal commission handed down a special report in September with six recommendations including that the government provide funding to ensure facilities had enough staff to continue to allow visitation during the pandemic; to deploy infection control experts at aged care facilities; and to establish a national aged care plan for COVID-19 through the National Cabinet in consultation with the aged care sector.

It also recommended the government report back by December 1 on its implementation of the recommendations.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government's response to the royal commission's report demonstrated its ongoing commitment to improving care for senior Australians, and keeping them safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This investment directly addresses issues raised by the Aged Care Royal Commission and will improve and support the health and wellbeing of aged care residents most significantly impacted by COVID-19," he said.

Greg Hunt

Greg Hunt

However, the Aged Care Guild said the government's response did not appropriately address some of the most pressing issues highlighted in the royal commission and the most recent StewartBrown analysis of the sector.

In a statement the Guild said, "The impact of COVID-19 has added significant pressure on providers and needs to be urgently addressed in the Government's upcoming Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, by immediately lifting the Basic Daily Fee by $10 per day and increasing care funding for all senior Australians in residential aged care. A commitment from Government would be a down-payment on the future of aged care.

"It has been two months since the last confirmed COVID-19 case in aged care in Victoria. This pandemic is far from over, but it is a timely reminder of the great work aged care providers and workers have done, adapting to the often rapidly changing environment, and doing their best with the resources available to protect senior Australians in their care.

"Providers are already implementing measures put in place by Government to date, including the COVID-19 Escalation Tiers, supported by the sector updated Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes During COVID-19, to balance the risk of the virus entering a home with the personal welfare and mental health of residents. Providers are also committed to working with Government to implement the new Infection Prevention and Control lead requirements by the February deadline.

"Additionally, the aged care industry remains committed to guaranteeing senior Australians in aged care with COVID-19 have the same access to hospital care as any other citizen. Aged care homes are not set up for the level of isolation or acute care needed to manage a COVID-19 outbreak."

Opposition spokeswoman on aged care, Julie Collins said the government's response was "too little, too late".

"Nothing will bring back the 685 older Australians who have tragically died in aged care homes from COVID-19," she said.

"The Royal Commission's special report confirmed the Morrison Government had no plan for COVID-19 in aged care and called for immediate action. But the Government's response makes it clear it has failed and is yet to fully implement all the recommendations of the Aged Care Royal Commission's special report."

The funding of physiotherapy and other allied health services to combat the impacts of COVID-19 in older Australians was a step in the right direction toward much-needed long term funding reform, according to the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA).

"Although it is unclear how many people will be eligible, this expanded funding will increase access to services designed to improve the physical, mental and cognitive health of aged care residents," gerontological physiotherapist Rik Dawson said.

"The APA has long called for the number of physiotherapy sessions available to older people under CDMs to be increased. Five sessions to meet all the allied health needs of a chronically ill or physically deconditioned person has never been enough to provide comprehensive care."

The introduction of group allied health sessions in homes where there have been COVID-19 outbreaks or periods of extended lockdown will also have an enormous impact on the well-being and independence of residents.

"Mobility is key to quality of life in older people. Balance and strength, developed through exercise, has been proven to reduce the number of falls and the severity of the resulting injuries," Mr Dawson said. "Physiotherapists are experts in assessing, monitoring and providing exercise-based programs to help remedy loss of muscle mass and improve strength and balance."

The APA is calling for these new measures to be made ongoing and available to all older Australians.

"This is a great start, but it must be made permanent if we're really serious about improving the health and wellbeing of older Australians. There must be ongoing investment in preventing illness and injury." Mr Dawson said.

"The government has a historic chance to give older people genuine holistic health care and increased quality of life," Mr Dawson said.

"It would be a tragedy if the current situation - with little funding for preventative care and comprehensive rehabilitation - is allowed to continue."

Aa