“The Royal Commission is just ignoring us”: the sector responds to concerns about mental health and experienced people leaving the sector

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My story on the expected exodus of executives from the aged care sector – and the current mental health of those working at all levels – garnered a big response this week with a number of others expressing concern for the mental wellbeing of staff and that many good, experienced people will leave the sector.

It was noted that the banking Royal Commission resulted in a number of suicides which many inside the industry are aware of, though they haven’t been discussed widely.

The CEO of one stand-alone facility compared the Royal Commission to a witch-hunt.

“Running a great RACF is damn hard work and requires a core of dedicated long-serving staff who are remunerated well,” they told me. “Quality care is certainly attainable at not a huge increase in cost to either the government or the person accessing the service. We are out here doing this now but the Royal Commission is just ignoring us.”

Several pointed out that their organisations have continued to provide quality care – despite the freeze on ACFI indexation in 2016 that ripped $1.3 billion out of the sector – exactly what Senior Counsel Assisting Peter Rozen QC suggested providers should do in his closing address last week: put care before financial viability.

Yet they are being told they are “cruel and unkind” – and are now facing a bleak future.

Financial losses now common

The CEO above said they are now heading for their third year of financial losses for their aged care facility. The profits from their retirement village and home care services are keeping the home up-and-running but they warn this is not sustainable.

Only this week, The Australian ran a story (pictured above) about the threat of bankruptcy in the sector, using the example of the Gunther Village home in Gayndah, west of Bundaberg. The 52-bed Not For Profit will need to explore its options by April after losing $345,000 a year for the last two years.

Providers now celebrate the fact that they are ‘breaking even’ – see this story on IRT from this week’s issue of The Weekly SOURCE.

Commenters made the point that the Government on both sides has neglected the sector and ignored the recommendations that have come out of the huge number of aged care reviews over the last 20 years – including those that could have turned its fortunes around.

David Tune in particular, in his 2017 Legislated Review, had recommended the Government require that all providers charge the minimum basic daily fee in residential care and providers be allowed to charge a higher basic daily fee to non-low means residents, with amounts over $100 to be approved.

This would enable competition between providers – while also boosting their bottom lines.

Substandard care makes up 0.0018% of resident interactions

It has also been pointed out that despite the examples presented during the Royal Commission, the cases of neglect and abuse presented don’t reflect the overall picture of the ‘care’ that is provided to residents.

Consultant Greg Adey tells us he estimates the 282,000 people in residential care over 12 months would conservatively have 30-plus interactions with staff each day (3,087,900,000 annual interactions)

The Interim Report revealed providers had self-reported 275,000 instances of ‘substandard care’ to the Royal Commission over five years or 55,000 per year.

That is 0.0018% of an older person’s interactions with staff. Nil is the objective but we are dealing with human beings, including dementia, and the interpretation of ‘substandard care’.

I keep returning to the statistics pointed out to us by AdventCare CEO David Reece after the release of the Interim Report – that the Commissioners have only visited 24 aged care homes or 0.8% of the industry.

That is a huge number of providers who have not had the opportunity to present their ‘good stories’ to the Commission.

Good stories the missing factor

As covered in my 4 September, 145th edition, Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck had promised he would do his part to ensure the sector didn’t emerge from the Commission with a negative perception.

Today, he pulled out of his scheduled appearance at the Retirement Living Summit, citing an urgent meeting.

It would seem then it may be up to the sector to spread its own stories – and provide reassurance and help to those who may be struggling in the current climate.

As the CEO from Monday’s story said, the question we should be asking is: “Are you okay?”