Graeme Croft tells Royal Commission that aged care COVID outbreaks were “joint failure” of State and Federal Governments – 11% disparity in ACFI funding and nurse award costs

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The Aged Care Royal Commission has published 75 submissions made on the impact of COVID-19 and in response to issues examined in its hearing on the pandemic – and there is one stand-out response.

Graeme Croft, the CEO and founder of private aged care provider Signature Care, provided a six-page submission to the Royal Commission, blaming both Federal and State Government for letting down aged care providers and recipients during the pandemic.

“The Commonwealth sets the regulation via the Aged Care Act 1997, and administers performance whilst being the funder of RAC, but the State provides acute care, both parties have failed care recipients by underfunding the sector, and removal of over $1.6Bn and failing to provide acute care when needed which has resulted in deaths,” he wrote.

Security of Tenure made relocating residents during COVID difficult

Graeme adds that the shift from around 40% of care recipients being high care to about 90% in the past 10 years also played a part, limiting efficient rostering and moving residents to other facilities.

“In addition, the security of Tenure legislation has limited providers managing residents with COVID-19 by prohibiting them relocating affected residents into one area or wing that can then be managed with high level PPE. Whole facilities have been closed to residents and their families.”

He also notes the high use of casual and agency staff contributed to the spread of COVID in facilities.

However, the CEO says that he does not believe mandated staffing ratios are the answer as Signature now employs more nursing staff than mandated under the former nurses’ award – a ratio of 1;7 during the day and 1:20 at night with 24/7 RN coverage.

Mandated staffing ratios not the answer

The introduction of mandated nurse ratios in hospitals and the disparity in pay rates are also highlighted.

Graeme points out that ACFI has increased just 5% over the five years between 2014 and 2019 while the nurses award has grown by 16%.

“My concern is that now nearly 12 months from the start of the Royal Commission, I am yet to hear the Commissioners establish any data on the adequacy of funding to the sector and pinpointing why the sector has had quality issues that were not evident five or so years ago,” he states pointedly.

He concludes by arguing for immediate increases in the aged care subsidies to make up this 11% difference, plus the reinstatement of pay roll tax supplements and a special COVID supplements of $25 per resident per day backdated to March 2020 to cover PPE costs.

“RCAC, terms of reference (f) “investment in the aged care workforce and capital infrastructure” can only occur when the RAC providers have confidence in the Commonwealth’s financial support of the sector in which all stakeholders have confidence.”

It’s a strong argument – will it be reflected in the Royal Commission’s final findings?