The first day of the returned Aged Care Royal Commission had Senior Counsel Assisting Richard Knowles revealing the Royal Commission is considering a mandatory requirement for residential care providers to maintain the mental health of their residents among a suite of propositions designed at improving access to health services in aged care.
Referring to the 2017 Oakden scandal, Mr Knowles said it was clear little had changed on the issue of older people’s mental health needs with 49% of aged care residents having a diagnosis of depression in both 2019 and 2018.
“Piecemeal funding for mental health care in aged care facilities has created a patchwork of incoherent services, causing confusion and gaps,” he said.
In particular, the Senior Counsel call out the gap between basic counselling and the high-level Older Person’s Mental Health Services which sees those in the middle – with conditions too complex for a GP and not severe enough to meet the criteria for the higher-level services – miss out.
Despite the Government committing $82.5 million over four years in 2018-19 to the country’s 31 Primary Health Networks for the mental health care of people in residential care, that amount is insufficient, he added.
To address these issues, Mr Knowles said Counsel Assisting would test a number of propositions, including:
- Changes to the Medicare Benefits Schedule to facilitate better access to mental health assessments, treatment plans and psychologists and psychiatrists for people in residential care.
- An incentive payment scheme for psychiatrists and psychologists to encourage them to attend aged care homes.
- Increasing funding to ensure State and Territory-run Older Person’s Mental Health Services are accessible on a consistent and equitable basis.
- Providing specific mental health training for personal care workers.
- A clear and measurable requirement that aged care providers maintain the mental health of residents.
The question is: how do you mandate that providers maintain residents’ mental health?
That will require setting out measurable health and wellbeing outcomes – and how do you measure if a resident has ‘joy’ in their life or not, being the marker that Commissioner Lynelle Briggs (photographed) is keen to achieve?