By JULIE OWENS
LOOK around. More than half of all Australian women you see, and about a third of the men will end up in residential aged care and they’ll stay there for an average of 2-3 years. That means in your lifetime you will most likely either live in aged care or love someone who does.
So, we should all be concerned at the findings of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, which handed down its final report last week.
When you read the report and its 148 recommendations it’s absolutely clear that our aged care system is in crisis.
The Royal Commission has highlighted the tragic outcomes of this crisis, including up to half of all aged care residents being malnourished and 60% of residents being prescribed strong psychotropic medication thought to be justified in just 10% of cases.
It told us stories of aged care residents with maggots in open wounds or left to lie in urine and faeces for days because their home has rationed incontinence pads.
It also shone a light on the long, “cruel and discriminatory” wait for home care packages which are designed to enable older Australians to continue living at home.
Older Australians needing the highest-level home care are now waiting more than two years for care they have been approved for. Some are waiting almost three years.
When the Royal Commission was called 100,000 older Australians were on this waiting list. Years later 100,000 older Australians are still waiting, including 2,425 people in Western Sydney. And over the past three years more than 30,000 Australians have died waiting.
This is cold comfort
In response to the Royal Commission’s interim report, the Morrison Government said it would fund another 10,000 home care packages. Then they committed to another 23,000 packages over four years in last year’s Budget, including just 2,000 high level (level 4) packages.
This is cold comfort to people in our community like Anna*, whose 94 year old mother had no choice but to go into residential aged care after a long wait for a home care package.
Like Zahra’s* mum who, despite being approved for a level 3 package in her 80s, was told she would need to wait 2 years for the bathroom and home modifications and domestic assistance that she urgently needs.
Or Bob* who endured a long wait to be approved for the essential home help, only to be told no local service providers were available.
The great tragedy of the Royal Commission is that hardly any of this is new information.
The families and carers of the 1.3 million Australians in aged care knew how cruel and harmful this system was long before the Royal Commission was called.
They’ve told their stories in letters, in the media, and in the 21 reports on the aged care system presented to the Government since 2013.
But the government – which provides more than 75 per cent of the funding for the aged care system and is 100 per cent responsible for the quality and safeguards of the system – failed to act and, during Scott Morrison’s time as Treasurer, cut aged care funding by $1.7B.
The 1.3 million Australians in aged care – and the millions more who will need aged care in the decades to come – need real policies backed up by real funding for more home care packages, more workforce development and training and more oversight of quality and safeguards.
The Morrison Government will be measured on its response to the Royal Commission’s final report. It’s clear that Australians need a government that can deliver – and not simply announce – systemic change.
I’m committed to raising voices in our community on this issue and will keep pressuring the government to act.
I’ll be hosting a seniors forum so you can tell what matters to you – call my office on 9689 1455 or sign up at julieowens.com.au/seniors and we’ll send you an invitation. If it’s not safe for you to attend in person, there will be options to attend by phone or Zoom.
*Names have been changed.
Julie Owens is Federal member for Parramatta.