If you’re currently navigating the aged care system for an elderly parent or loved one, then your ears would have likely picked up when the Royal Commission into Aged Care recently released its interim report.
The report revealed horrific stories of neglect and abuse within aged care homes and failings within the wider system, particularly regarding home care availability and the unnecessary use of chemical restraints on aged care residents.
However, for Australians who are currently trying to navigate our aged care system, the report is cold comfort for those who need practical solutions and advice now.
I work with hundreds of families every year who are trying to make sense of the system and make the best choice for their loved ones. When you need aged care for an ageing family member, you’re likely to need care straight away, not in 12-18 months’ time and you may need to make a decision quickly.
It’s important we understand that while there are concerns about aged care within the report, it’s not a reason to fear engaging with the system completely.
The Royal Commission is essential and will ultimately be a good thing to weed out bad practices and providers. However, it’s important to not tarnish a whole industry with the same brush. We have thousands of excellent providers and aged care workers that are delivering care to the elderly in a kind and caring manner.
I know from experience that aged care homes can be a safe, secure and happy places because I know of many elderly people who are genuinely happy there.
I’ve met elderly people who before entering aged care were living on tea and toast and too afraid to step outside the front door, however, that has all changed since moving into a home. For them it means they can go to bed and wake up knowing there is someone there to talk to, that there is help when it’s needed and that meals and activities are organised for them daily.
When we see problems in aged care, it’s often due to the provider not adequately staffing a home. A good rule of thumb is to ask if there’s at least one registered nurse onsite 24/7, although this should be thought of as a guide rather than a rule, depending on how many residents live in the home and their care needs.
While we cannot ignore genuine tales of neglect and abuse, the commission’s interim report shouldn’t make families fearful of aged care and you should instead use it as an opportunity to empower and educate yourselves about the system and your choices.
I recently had a gentleman in South Australia tell me he’d been approved for a Level 3 Home Care Package (HCP). I asked him if he had been approved or allocated the package, which he didn’t understand.
This is a common problem within the industry, which didn’t appear to be emphasised within the report. There’s often confusion around what the terminology means and it’s often not user friendly.
In the home care example, just because you’re approved for a HCP, it doesn’t mean you are allocated one. You may be down the bottom of the list of the 120,000 people who are already on the waiting list.
When entering aged care, find someone who really understands the system such as an aged care placement consultant, as often the accessors and even the providers aren’t across every aspect aged care. Similarly, different providers can have different processes.
The Aged Care Royal Commission should demonstrate how important it is to investigate your provider and who is delivering your service.
Often people will assume that they are being given the correct service, but that’s not always the case. I spoke with a client recently who told me he had six hours a week of home care with his Level 4 package which is concerning because a Level 4 package should provide a minimum of 12-18 hours a week of care.
Once I informed him of this I began negotiations with the provider on his behalf, asking them to explain why the hours were so low. Since I understand the industry and what is standard among providers, I was able to quickly have the HCP hours increased to a much more reasonable standard.
Another trap to avoid is assuming if you engage with a not-for-profit (NFP) provider you will receive a better service or better value for money. I have seen dozens of cases where this is simply not the case.
For example, I remember a woman from Queensland who told me that the HCP for her 90-year-old mother was costing $67 an hour which I found shocking because a reasonable home care rate would be about $50 an hour.
When I told her this, she told me she assumed she was getting a better deal because the provider was a NFP.
When it comes to aged care, it pays to shop around or find someone who understands what’s considered standard or reasonable within the industry. You can’t expect to become an expert in aged care overnight!
Every elderly person seeking aged care will have a different story. Your mum, dad, wife or husband will all have very unique care needs depending on their family, culture, religion, lifestyle and financial means, and that means the system is inevitably complicated.
The government frequently tries to find ways to simplify the system, with more websites, portals such as the My Aged Care system and now a Royal Commission. While all of these initiatives are helpful, nothing will beat getting tailored, personalised advice for your unique family situation and care needs. This may mean working with an aged care consultant to help navigate the system as well as financial planners, doctors and a suitable legal team.
We need to embrace the village mentality and let families know it’s not okay for them to be expected to go through this on their own. It’s this team of experts around you who can also be the ones to advocate for you if you’re not receiving the care you need or can help you change providers if needed. With the right information and support, aged care should be about good quality, accessible and affordable care with a provider that you choose.