Aged care generic seniors elderly.
Aged care generic seniors elderly.

Gympie region hungry for care close to home

By Professor John McCallum, National Seniors Australia

As we tuck into our Christmas lunch this year, spare a thought for the Aged Care Royal

Commissioners who have plenty on their plate.

Having listened to almost two years of evidence, Commissioners Tony Pagone and Lynelle

Briggs now have to sift through all the ingredients that will form their recommendations due

in mid-February.

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One key ingredient to be looking for is their response to the challenge of providing adequate

care in rural and regional Australia.

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In November last year, the Royal Commission travelled to the NSW Central West to hear

three days of evidence.

A lot of that evidence will come as no surprise to residents of rural and regional towns.

There was one story of a woman who tearfully told the Commission she was worried she’d

be forced to give up her farm, because her home care provider abruptly cut off its services

citing difficulty in accessing her property.

A female nurse consoles a senior patient at home, aged care generic
A female nurse consoles a senior patient at home, aged care generic

Not only that, she continued to be charged after the provider ceased its visits.

The Commission heard another story of a registered nurse who was bullied and threatened

by staff at an aged care facility where her mother was a resident, because she complained

about how she was being treated.

And since it was in a small town, she refused to reveal the name of the home for fear her

mother would be further neglected.

They were the individual cases.

Then there are the familiar and common themes when it comes to aged care in rural and

regional Australia.

Such as the need to attract better trained nursing staff, but as we know, trying to lure high

quality care workers from the big smoke is like the chicken and the egg.

Regional care providers are told to pay more for their staff, the providers say they don’t

have the money and round and round it goes.

Young male community healthcare worker being welcomed by a senior man at his home; Aged care home care visit, senior generic
Young male community healthcare worker being welcomed by a senior man at his home; Aged care home care visit, senior generic

The chairman of one regional aged care home told the Commission last November that

when he advertised for a Deputy Director of Nursing, he received one application for the

job.

This causes significant stress and upheaval to older Australians in aged care, because the

shortage of quality care in their hometowns, forces them into larger towns or the capitals to

get the care they need.

They are driven, literally hundreds of kilometres away from their home, far, far away from

friends and family.

In many cases these are people who have called where they lived their hometown all their

lives.

National Seniors has done a lot of research on the challenges that are unique to older

Australians living in regional areas.

For example, we found the shortage of quality residential aged care means on average,

those living in regional Australia are forced to move 86 kilometres away and people in

remote/very remote areas move 400 kilometres away.

Compare that to city residents who on average move 39 kilometres away.

There’s also a sense of helplessness about the tyranny of distance. As one respondent put it

in our research, “this move often signals the end of their lives.”

And it’s not just a shortage of nurses. There is also a lack of quality GP’s, medical providers

and hospitals and emergency departments.

The COVID-19 pandemic only serves to exacerbate this, because when our international

borders were open, part of the solution was to train overseas nurses and doctors to care for

older Australians.

I know to many of you these issues have long been a part of rural and regional life, but when

we carry out our research there’s a sense of frustration and desperation from older

Australians living outside metropolitan areas, that their cries for help are being ignored.

There’s also an anxiety about being able to afford aged care whether it be in their homes

(where the overwhelming majority of Australians want to be looked after) or residential

aged care.

A lot of participants in our research say too many aged care providers are more interested in

caring for profits than they are about caring for their own residents or patients.

As one respondent told us, “They are understaffed by less qualified people than should be

and they don’t care”.

An old lady's hands in generic photo for Aged Care.
An old lady's hands in generic photo for Aged Care.

There is now however, hope.

National Seniors has been actively engaged with the aged care industry through its

workforce council in partnership with the government.

Already the council has established an accord to take on the challenges remote and very

remote communities have in accessing high quality care.

The council’s vision is to “develop a world-class workforce that can provide quality and

skilled aged care services which meets the care needs of older Australians now and into the

future.”

It might seem like we’re a long way from that aspiration, but the Royal Commission has

given the case for change in all areas of aged care real momentum.

The industry and the government are on notice.

Substandard care wherever it is perpetrated won’t be tolerated, not in the cities nor country

towns.

Commissioners Pagone and Briggs now have a feast of ideas on the table over Christmas

and the perfect opportunity to come up with a recipe to fix aged care and that includes a

generous slice for rural and regional Australia.

By Professor John McCallum, National Seniors Australia

Gympie Times


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