Home-care industry rife with ‘systemic problems’: report

As the Government commits $967 million to residential aged care, a report commissioned by Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt has put the spotlight on potential widespread rorting and dissatisfaction within the at-home aged-care sector.

The report highlights “systemic problems” in the burgeoning industry as a generation of baby boomers swell retirement ranks, putting pressure on aged-care providers.

Key problems highlighted in the report included extortionate fees, untrained staff and unnecessarily complex procedures.

Dr Sarah Russell, an independent researcher, director of Aged Care Matters and report author, said the findings based on interviews with 40 recipients or relatives of recipients of Commonwealth Home-Care Support or Home-Care Packages “absolutely shocked me”.

“I was expecting home-care packages to enable people to live well at home and was very surprised to find some people quite traumatised by the experience,” she said.

While those interviewed described the packages as a “godsend”, in that they provided funds to help keep people at home as they aged, they also said the procedures were often confusing, expensive and easy for providers to abuse.

Two years ago, the home-care system was revamped. Consumers now choose their provider and there are about 870 in the marketplace. At-home services will cost taxpayers $2 billion this year, according to Fairfax Media, which also reports that profits in the sector grew in one year alone from $142 million to $185 million.

The most concerning issue identified by Dr Russell was the high turnover of unqualified, inexperienced and untrained support workers entrusted to perform intimate personal tasks. They are often young, poorly trained and have no aged-care qualifications beyond a police check, she said.

The complexity of the packages was also a key concern, with Dr Russell saying that even those with business and accounting experience found the system “bamboozling”.

“If you’re an old person on your own, with no family to help you, I seriously can’t understand how you could manage these packages, particularly when someone is taking 50 per cent of the total funding in fees,” she said.

She was also troubled by what she described as the “commodification of the elderly”, with providers adding big percentages on top of the cost of services to boost profits.

The Federal Government recently announced funding for 10,000 new high-level home-care packages, but the waiting list can be lengthy with around 127,000 waiting more than a year to receive care.

Dr Russell said that, as the population ages, demand for home care will skyrocket and expansion must be managed correctly.

“There were people in my sample who were very grateful and were receiving really good services,” she said. “It was mostly from the local smaller providers. So in my view, we need to get the unscrupulous providers out of this sector. The only way I can think to do this is with good regulation.”

Mr Wyatt told Fairfax Media he was “concerned with the practice of some providers charging high levels of case management and administration costs”.

Have you had experience in seeking or helping someone obtain a home-care package? Was it a difficult process? Do you believe staff are adequately trained? Have you been waiting some time for a package?

Written by Janelle Ward

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