Attwood Marshall Lawyers Wills and Estates Senior Associate and Accredited Aged Care Professional Debbie Sage discusses the latest news and developments that are impacting the aged care sector.
There have been several developments in the aged care space recently, as the Department of Health and Aged Care continues to implement recommendations aimed at reforming the aged care sector.
These include more home closures, new guidance on looming staffing requirements, the launch of a ratings scheme to hold aged care homes more accountable and insights into the Serious Incident Response Scheme.
Closures of aged care homes due to staff shortages
Alarmingly, over the past year several aged care homes have been forced to close – often due to a combination of financial struggles and a lack of staff. Regional, smaller facilities are being hit with closures the hardest, and one industry expert has predicted between 30 and 50 home closures over the next 18 months.
On April 14, Feros Care announced it is closing its Byron Bay facility because it cannot comply with higher government standards for residential aged care without significant refurbishment and extension.
From July 1, approved providers must have a registered nurse on-site and on duty 24/7 in every residential aged care facility they run. From October 1, they will also be responsible for ensuring certain categories of staff are meeting a minimum standard of time with each resident for quality and safety per day.
The Feros Care news came shortly after Wesley Mission said that all of its Sydney homes will shut down, forcing 200 residents to find alternative accommodation. The CEO attributed the drastic decision to the new national staffing requirements mentioned above. A few days later, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese defended the new rules.
24/7 Registered Nurse and Care Minutes Responsibilities
Janet Anderson, Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner, issued a letter addressing misinformation that has been circulating about the department’s regulatory approach to the requirements for a 24/7 registered nurse and stricter tracking of care minutes.
Anderson said the Commission will be “taking a fair and sensible approach” to enforcement. If a provider can demonstrate it is working towards complying with its responsibilities and effectively managing any risks that can arise before the required frameworks are in place, they will be treated differently to those that deliberately avoid their obligations or are placing residents at risk of harm.
The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission held a webinar for residential aged care providers on April 18 that explored the topic in greater detail. It also published a lengthy statement on its website on April 24, clarifying its expectations for those providers that are struggling to comply.
The Department of Health and Aged Care also released a 48-page guide on the two requirements on March 20, setting out the changed rules and breaking down various definitions and expectations.
Federal Budget and State Funding
In addition to these new staffing requirements, low pay is also thought to be contributing to the significant staff shortages in the sector.
Many have pinned their hopes on a 15 per cent pay rise that was announced in February this year by the Fair Work Commission, which will apply not only to all personal care workers and nurses, but also recreational activities officers and head chefs and cooks.
The Federal Government announced earlier this month that it will commit $11.3 billion to fund the pay rises. The package was confirmed in the Federal Budget, published May 9. It means that aged care workers will receive an extra $7,000 a year while nurses will be paid an extra $10,000 a year.
The decision for the pay rise came after the Royal Commission recommended a significant boost in award wages to attract and retain more workers in the field, after reports that Australia currently has a 35,000 shortfall of workers each year compared to international best practice.
The day after the Federal Budget, Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced that the State Government will offer healthcare workers up to $20,000 to relocate to QLD and up to $70,000 if they move to rural communities, which are suffering from staff shortages the most. Eligible workers include interstate and international doctors, nurses, specialists, dentists and allied health professionals.
Providers should have submitted their latest quarterly data (concerning 1 January 2023 to 31 March 2023) that will be used to inform the publication of “star ratings” on the My Aged Care website.
The new regime came into force in December 2022. It is a key recommendation from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, the star ratings system aims to boost transparency in the sector and provide older Australians and their families with the right information when choosing aged care providers.
Providers are given one to five stars across four different categories – compliance, residents’ experience, staffing and quality measures. People can then compare different services based on nationally consistent measures. The expected extra scrutiny and public engagement should also push those named and shamed into improving their services.
According to statistics published on Aged Care Online, the last published round of data showed that 31 per cent of aged care facilities received 4 or 5 stars – meaning that they “meet” or “exceed expectations” – whereas 10 per cent of facilities received just 1 or 2 stars, requiring “significant improvement.”
Serious Incident Response Scheme Insights
On March 16 the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission published its first report in a new series exploring the most common types of incidents being reported under the Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS).
The latest report found that “unreasonable use of force” accounts for nearly two-thirds of incidents that were reported between 1 April 2021 to 30 June 2022. Eighty-six per cent of those incidents involved interactions between residents, often with severe cognitive impairment.
The Commission wants providers and their staff to use the report – and the guided questions it has included in it – as part of their team workshops or during board meetings to help identify key lessons and improve responsive decision-making.
The SIRS, which aims to reduce abuse and neglect in aged care, was also extended to apply to Home Care Packages (HCP) from December 1, 2022.
The recent case involving a 95-year-old great grandmother being tasered twice by police at the Yallambee Lodge residential aged care in the NSW country town of Cooma has shocked the nation and has received international coverage.
The 95-year-old aged care resident, who suffers from dementia, remains in a critical condition in hospital following the incident when she fell and suffered a head injury after being tasered.
This incident has ignited calls for greater understanding of dementia and better training for police.
Mandatory Food and Nutrition Reporting has kicked in
There is now a mandate for food and nutrition reporting, which has been applied to all aged care facilities since 14 February 2023.
The health department has also issued a warning to aged care facilities to pay more attention to the explanatory notes for quarterly financial reporting when handing over their data. It highlighted discrepancies in first quarter reporting, relating to on-site contract catering food and cooking ingredients, as well as the way food and cooking ingredients were being classified as “fresh” or “other.”
The department said it needs accurate data from providers – including how they spend money on food and how they support the nutritional wellbeing of their residents – to help them develop policies for those who live in aged care.
National Aged Care Provider Conference
Registration has opened for the National Aged Care Provider Conference 2023. It will be held 8-9 June in Melbourne. You’ll need to complete an expression of interest form to be considered for a formal invitation.
The event brings together senior leaders of approved aged care providers of residential and home services. Experts on aged care quality standards, change management and leadership will be speaking, as well as representatives from both the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission and Department of Health and Aged Care.
Aged care reforms are likely to feature heavily on the agenda.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers – supporting people through every stage of life
At Attwood Marshall Lawyers, we help people navigate the complex aged care industry and the often-overwhelming care options available. It is essential to get trusted advice when transitioning to aged care. There are important financial and legal decisions to make, and trusted advice can make all the difference in ensuring you are making an informed decision that suits your unique preferences and needs. Planning properly, in line with your best interests, is the priority. We continue to advocate for substantial change in the aged care sector to protect the elderly during these tumultuous times.
For aged care advice, service agreements or estate planning advice, please contact our Wills and Estates and Aged Care Department Manager, Donna Tolley, on her direct line 07 5506 8241, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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