Rural aged care in crisis: chief

Daryna ZadvirnaNarrogin Observer
Narrogin Cottage Homes CEO Julie Christensen.
Camera IconNarrogin Cottage Homes CEO Julie Christensen. Credit: Daryna Zadvirna

Narrogin Cottage Homes chief executive Julie Christensen has called on the Federal Government to provide more funding for struggling regional residential aged care facilities.

According to Ms Christensen, rural aged care desperately lacked the funds to meet community expectations and the ageing population.

“Currently, the aged-care system isn’t funded to deliver the kind of health care and support that people expect and deserve,” she said. “And nowhere is this more evident than in regional and remote Australia.”

Last week, the Australian Medical Association called for a significant increase in Federal aged-care funding, in a 53-page submission to the Royal Commission.

The AMA’s recommendations included a commitment to significant funding increases to bridge the gap between city and country.

“Government needs to develop comprehensive plans to better support the provision of health and aged care in regional, rural, and remote Australia,” the AMA said.

Ms Christensen said although Narrogin Cottage Homes has managed to break even, it had been a tough year.

“It’s very difficult, but we’re lucky we balance the books; many other regional facilities are significantly in the red,” she said.

“But if we continue along that vein, if we don’t continue to make at least some level of surplus, how can we reinvest back into the key needs of the community which are always growing?”

About 15 per cent of the population is aged 65 and over, a figure which is predicted to rise to just under a quarter by the end of this century, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

“This crisis has only exponentiated itself — it’s only getting worse — and this year was probably the worst I’ve ever seen it,” Ms Christensen said. “Something needs to be done soon or we’re going to see more and more of these smaller rural facilities forced into closing their doors.”

Data published earlier this year showed nearly half of Australia’s residential aged-care facilities were running at a loss, with 67 per cent of outer regional, rural and remote facilities struggling to break even.

The Stewart Brown Aged Care Financial Performance Survey — the largest benchmark report in Australia’s aged-care sector — also indicated about 43 per cent of remote facilities would have to dip into their own pockets to stay open.

Ms Christensen said she was also concerned about the government progressively relying more on the consumer-based service model for funding.

“I hear more and more about a consumer-based service model, where basic services will be supported by the government but each user of the service will be expected to contribute based on assists and income,” she said.

“But while this model is gathering more momentum in the city, it will be very hit and miss in the country. The bottom line is that if we can’t get the costing right now for the basic services model in the bush, none of us may still be around to provide any service into the future.”

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety is required to provide an interim report by the end of this month, and a final report late next year.

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