Federal Government must secure financial future of regional aged care
Aged care facilities in rural and regional Australia are struggling financially and urgently need support to make sure they are sustainable into the future, Federal Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie said today.
The Centre Alliance MP has raised her concerns after joining her colleague Senator Stirling Griff in lodging a series of questions on notice to the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Richard Colbeck. The Minister was attending today’s public hearing of the parliamentary committee investigating the Government response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID-19 has added a new level of complexity and significant costs to the aged care sector but even before the height of the pandemic hit Australia, financial analysts were flagging pretty bleak outlooks for the sector,” Rebekha said.
“A Stewart Brown Advisory quarterly report to March 2020 showed 60 per cent of aged care homes were reporting an operating loss for the last nine months and 74 per cent of regional homes were operating an operating loss, 55 per cent having a cash operating deficit.
“In particular, residential facilities in regional, rural and remote areas had an operating loss of $5,098 per bed per year.
“These percentages were expected to further deteriorate over the next six months when the full impact of COVID-19 is taken into account.
“Not only are facilities facing extra staff and cleaning costs, they are also dealing with families removing their loved ones due to health concerns.
“I’ve called for a long time for regional homes to be treated differently – for a number of reasons, the most important being that our facilities don’t have the economies of scale that the big facilities in the city enjoy.
“Our towns might only have 20, 30 or 40 beds compared with 100 to 200 beds in some metropolitan areas.
“We need to keep these facilities open in our communities and robust enough financially to withstand this health crisis.
“Many are run by not-for-profits and rely on the generosity and support of the local community but that is a precarious situation that cannot continue.
“The Aged Care Minister needs to have a very clear plan on how we fund regional aged care into the future and that needs to go beyond the extra costs of COVID-19.
“I don’t think they have a plan at the moment.”
The following are Questions on Notice submitted to the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, for the Select Committee inquiring into the Government’s response to COVID-19. Transcripts of public hearings are available here.
Can the Minister advise:
1. On 20 March 2020 the Prime Minister announced temporary increases in additional funding for both residential aged care facilities and home care providers due to the impacts of COVID-19 on the aged care sector.
- a. Prior to the announcement on 20 March 2020, did the Government undertake any modelling or analysis to determine the likely increased costs to residential aged care facilities due to COVID-19? If so, please provide a copy of the report.
- b. Has the Government undertaken any subsequent modelling or analysis to determine whether the temporary increases in additional funding are sufficient to meet the costs incurred by providers as a consequence of the pandemic?
- c. Does the Government intend to review the temporary increases in additional funding for both residential and home care providers and if so, when?
- d. Has the Government allowed for reporting requirements on how the funding announced on 20 March 2020 has been spent, if not, why not?
- a) eligible for the bonus payment and
- b) currently receiving payments?
- Ensure aged care employers can cover any additional entitlements to enable employees to work at a single site;
- Engage and train additional staff where existing employees are unable to work due to self-isolation requirements and/or where a more intensive workforce mix is required;
- Support aged care workers who are unable to work due to symptoms, self‑isolation or travel restrictions, regardless of whether they would usually receive paid leave.
- Provide alternative accommodation so workers who live or work in hotspots can continue to work.
2. Has the Government undertaken any analysis or modelling with respect to the financial sustainability of residential aged care facilities in rural and regional areas in light of the impacts of the COVID-19 response?
3. What steps is the Government taking to ensure the long-term sustainability of residential aged care facilities in rural and regional areas?
4. On what basis did the Government determine that allied health professionals, cleaners and catering staff would not be included in the aged care workforce retention bonus scheme?
5. What percentage of individuals employed in the aged care sector are:
6. Does the Government intend to review the aged care workforce retention bonus scheme and if so, when?
7. What infection control and/or PPE training, if any, is being provided to workers in residential aged care facilities in South Australia? If training is being offered, is it compulsory for all staff and if not, why not?
8. (a) Has the Government undertaken any analysis to determine what percentage of workers in the aged care industry will be eligible for the paid pandemic leave pursuant to the decision of the Fair Work Commission?
(b) If so, can the Government provide a breakdown of how many personal care workers, enrolled nurses, registered nurses, allied health workers, cleaners, catering staff and administrative staff are eligible to receive paid pandemic leave as a consequence of the decision by the Fair Work Commission?
9. The Fair Work Commission has ruled that aged care workers under three awards - the Aged Care Award, the Nurses Award and the Health Professionals Award - will be entitled to two weeks' paid leave during the pandemic effective from 29 July 2020 and lasting for three months.
Has the Government made a decision as to who will cover the cost for paid pandemic leave for aged care workers?
10. On 19 July 2020 the Federal Government announced ‘funding’ to residential and home care providers to:
(a) How much funding has been provided to deliver these measures?
(b) Has the Government allowed for reporting requirements on how the funding announced 19 July 2020 will be spent, if not, why not?
(c) Does the Government have modelling on the rate of infection of Covid-19 in residential aged care due to staff movements across multiple residential aged care centres and, if so, when was this modelling commissioned?
(d) When did the Government first consider the issue of ‘cohorting’ of aged care employees as part of the strategy to reduce the spread of the COVID-19?
(e) Why has the Government not mandated ‘cohorting’ of aged care employees in federally funded residential aged care and directed a cessation of staff working across multiple sites?