Aged care reform was the focus when Catholic Health Australia’s Martin Laverty spoke to representatives from religious congregations in Sydney on 11 March.
The information session involving 16 religious and lay representatives providing aged care in communities across Australia, was convened by Catholic Religious Australia (CRA).
Catholic Health Australia’s (CHA) chief executive officer told the group gathered at CRA’s Annandale office that change is coming to the aged care sector.
While these changes posed challenges, they also presented opportunities for expansion and growth, as long as religious congregations started planning now, Mr Laverty said.
Reporting on the outcomes of the Productivity Commission’s recent draft report into aged care – Caring for Older Australians – Mr Laverty said the aim of the overhaul of aged care was to fund it at the level that it costs.
“Since 1997 there has been no major correction of the aged care system by government. In 1997 aged care was financially viable but by early 2004 60 per cent of aged care providers were operating in a technical deficit. Over that period, the amount of care hours being provided to older people in their homes had also dropped from seven to five hours for the same money.”
Since the Productivity Commission released its report on 21 January this year, CHA has had several meetings with government on the report’s recommendations.
Mr Laverty said the government’s initial response had been to reaffirm CHA’s three key directions for aged care – universal access for all, consumer choice and a focus on those in financial disadvantage.
He added that while nothing was set in stone, the policy changes outlined in Caring for Older Australians indicate that the future would be very different from it is now.
Some of the proposed reforms include introducing a regional one-stop shop or gateway agency for aged care, which would be the first point of call for those looking for community or residential care services. The current system of allocating residential care bed licences and community care packages to providers would disappear, as would the low, high and extra service status distinctions. Services would be driven by what consumers want in a deregulated market where older Australians would contribute to the cost of their care according to their financial capacity to do so.
Mr Laverty said these changes would mean that Catholic providers would have to compete in an open market.
He said while this poses challenges it also provides opportunities.
“We know that small services under 60 beds will be operating at an unsustainable level in the next five years but this does not necessarily mean they have to close.
“But what they will need to do is to take a new commercial approach to their mission.
“Merger is an option that should be talked about, as well as looking at ways you can share and partner with other facilities in the areas of kitchen and laundry facilities, linen services and business processes such as payroll and procurement.
“Closure will be an option for some but this new environment will provide terrific opportunities for religious congregations to expand their business by administering community care programs.”
Mr Laverty said CHA’s advice was that aged care providers have a window in which they can help each other but it was important not to leave it too late.
Sister Moya Campbell RSJ from Sisters of St Joseph Aged Care Services Queensland said while Martin’s talk had clarified the need to respond, she felt encouraged that if they start now they have five years to do something.
Sister Chloe Forsyth from the Daughters of Charity’s St Catherine’s Aged Care in Sydney said there was lots of hope in the Productivity Commission’s report for the future of aged care with the idea of a one-stop shop absolutely brilliant.
“As CHA’s information report showed, we need to talk to one another and not see each other as rivals. Our focus should be the ministry of aged care and our shared interests.”
Sister Marion Gambin, representing Mary MacKillop Care Ltd SA, is excited about the possibilities of expanding into community care.
“That’s how Josephite aged care started in South Australia 142 years ago with Mary MacKillop visiting people in their homes, as well as those who were homeless. Providing accommodation was the next step. So moving into community care is a great way to go and it is recapturing the original reasons for why we came into being.
“Connecting to people in their own place is what people are asking for and I think we are in a good position to provide that type of care.”
Sister Marion said they were also exploring social housing and looking to see if they can be providers in that area.
“We are also in a good position to address that growing area of ageing and loneliness which more and more people seem to be facing. So we can look at ways where we can do more to support people that find themselves sitting in little unit on their own.”
The Productivity Commission’s final report will be released in June this year. During March and April, the Commission is holding public hearings in all capital cities. For more information go to: www.pc.gov.au/projects/inquiry/aged-care
Caption for photo: From left: Sister Marion Gambin RSJ, Martin Laverty, Sister Antoinette Baldwin RSJ, Sister Veronica McCluskie SGS, Executive Director of Catholic Religious Australia, Sister Anne Derwin RSJ, President of the National Council of Catholic Religious Australia and Sister Sheila McCreanor RSJ.