Up to 30% of home care clients cancelling services, says LASA survey – but growth in home care still outstripping demand for residential care

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Home care providers are taking a hit as scared clients cancel services over COVID-19 concerns, with a national survey by LASA finding up to 27,000 older Australians had cancelled services.

The survey of 64 home and community care providers with over 90,000 clients found that despite most providers increasing their level of services to address the number of older Australians staying at home, 73% of participants said up to 30% of clients had cancelled their services.

Transport (43%), individual social support (36%) and individual respite (21%) were the services reported to be most often cancelled.

New enquiries were also mixed, with 47% reporting a reduction while 25% said they had experienced no change and 28% said the level of enquiries had actual increased.

Operators said the recent Government messaging on home care (the ‘it’s okay to have home care’ campaign), information and staff training had helped address some concerns, but frontline staff remained concerned about catching and transmitting the virus.

The lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) available to home care staff was pinpointed as an issue with clients reluctant to let in workers without PPE.

“Many clients’ ceased services initially however some have recommenced. Clients want staff to wear PPE particularly masks when there is no requirement to do so,” one operator said.

This issue was expected to continue, with 85% of providers surveyed predicting one quarter of their clients would experience flu-like symptoms this month.

The LASA data tallies with the 15 to 20% cancellations that providers have reported to us.

However, while the majority of providers said they expected this drop-off in clients to continue into June, demand will return.

Those who have cancelled services are likely to deteriorate further at home without supports – leading to an increased need for services in the future.

As one participant noted: “With reduced family support, HCP clients have much higher needs.”

Aged care management specialist Pride Living’s Bruce Bailey also tells us that home care continues to grow at 7-8% per year, compared to 2-3% for residential care.

“The market wants home care,” he said.

He cited a study into hip fractures among older women that found 80% said they would rather be dead than end up in residential care following a hip fracture.

However, Bruce believes there is a gap in the market for providers that work with clients to help them do the activities that they can no longer do by themselves.

“They are not thinking more broadly about how they can work,” he said.

He argued providers with clients who can say ‘I have a great life, despite my infirmity’ are going to be the best voice for attracting new customers.