Push for aged care funding to cover ‘social, emotional care’
PublishedOctober 4, 2022
Sydney Morning Herald, 4 October 2022
The Health Services Union is calling on the Albanese government to ensure that aged care residents’ “social and emotional” needs are met as a new funding model kicks off with dollars tied to time spent on clinical care.
Union NSW secretary Gerard Hayes said aged care workers must be funded to provide “holistic care” that addressed emotional as well as clinical needs.
“Medical care is one thing, but mental health is not just about giving people pills,” he said.
“An aged care facility isn’t a clinical area like a hospital, it’s a person’s home. It’s important in our view that the care minutes should include allied health, psychological and social care.”
Aged care residents and their families who shared their experiences with The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age said social activities were “hit-and-miss” across the sector, with the best providers supporting residents’ unique interests while others left them to sit idle.
Under the new arrangements that began on Saturday, the average amount of Commonwealth funding per resident rose from about $192 to $225 in the largest boost to the sector in 20 years to prepare for new staffing ratios to begin in a year’s time.
But while providers must deliver an average 200 care minutes a day per resident – an extra 20 minutes each – from October 2023, the funding is tied to time spent with a personal care worker or nurse and not social workers, psychologists, pastoral care, activities or outings.
Providers say leisure activities from bingo to musical performances could fall by the wayside if they are not specifically funded.
Aged and Community Care Providers Association acting chief executive Paul Sadler said focusing solely on personal care and nursing care was “too narrow for what older people need overall”.
“Allied health, pastoral care and emotional support should all be captured and measured so that we know that we are providing everything that older people need,” he said.
“Older people absolutely love having staff that have time to be able to sit, to chat and get to know the residents.”
Hayes said the psychological wellbeing of aged care residents relied on the level of engagement they enjoyed at the home.
“You imagine waking up every day ... if you’ve got depression, you’re feeling anxious or incredibly lonely, to be able to have that holistic care is important,” he said.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers, who is preparing to hand down his first budget on October 25, on Sunday said the rising cost of aged care, while “a desirable investment”, was one of the biggest pressures on the taxpayer purse.
The new Australian National Aged Care Classification funding model classifies residents according to their level of need and, unlike the old approach, allows them to retain a higher level of funding if their health and mobility improves, as recommended by the Aged Care Royal Commission.
A spokesman for Aged Care Minister Anika Wells said the new funding model would increase the funding per resident by almost 10 per cent, including the additional care minutes which providers argue will cost more to deliver.
“More care minutes means more time for checking in with residents, meals, showers, dressing and wound management,” the spokesman said.
The overall funding increase meant that “social care, such as social activities and lifestyle, are still funded and are still required to be delivered by residential aged care providers”.
Accountancy firm Stewart Brown, which advises the aged care industry, last month forecast a $499 million annual shortfall, which the government disputes.
Australian Health Services Research Institute director Professor Kathy Eagar recommended in her evidence to the royal commission that an extra 22 minutes a day of allied healthcare – from clinicians including psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists and physiotherapists – be directly funded.
But the royal commission declined to recommend this, instead saying the government should separately pay for these services through the health system.