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ACAR announced, three months late

But will ghost beds come back to haunt Justine Elliot?

The Minister for Ageing, Justine Elliot, has finally announced details of the 2010-11 Aged Care Assessment Round (ACAR), almost three months later than expected.

It is thought the delay was caused by the threats of providers in all states not to apply for beds, and the possibility of an under subscribing of applications similar to the 2009-10 ACAR.

The belated announcement on 22 January offered 8140 beds and 4078 community care packages. If successfully subscribed, it would enable a big pre election announcement on the government’s commitment to aged care, when applications have been approved.

However, the delay, and possible under subscribing, combined with the last ACAR under subscription, means the minister is at risk of creating a “ghost beds” scenario. This is where beds have been approved but not yet come into operation. The long lead times for the full completion of allocated beds necessitates the need for a steady flow of approvals if large gaps between needed beds, allocations and approvals are not to re-emerge.

Elliot’s first 2008-09 ACAR resulted in a 25 per cent shortfall in the final approval compared to places made available. The 5748 residential places was made up by the approval of 4699 community care places, well in excess of the 2784 places initially on offer.

While it is not possible to know how far applications in 2008-09 fell below previous years, the global financial crisis no doubt had an effect. Some providers had also threatened to boycott the round, while others said they were getting out of residential aged care altogether.

The minister may not only come to be haunted by ghost beds, but worse, also be threatened by a drought of approvals that would eventually materialise into operational beds. The gap between operational beds and the number of beds required to maintain the ratio of 88 places per 1000 aged 70 and over looks set to increase again. The low level of approvals in 2008-09 was preceded by three ACARs that averaged only 5500 beds.

The minister’s 22 January announcement includes up to $160 million in zero real interest loans; and more than $41 million in capital grants to construct or upgrade residential aged care facilities. However, this is nowhere near the funding provided for new halls for schools, a point not lost on the industry.

Providers are still uncertain about how to plan for the future and may be less responsive to this latest, delayed ACAR. They may prefer to wait for the outcome of the review of the ratios currently underway.

Did INsite query inspire ACAR release?

The unexpected and unexplained delay in releasing the ACAR details for 2009-10, after at least one state aged care association had foreshadowed their announcement “shortly” in November, led to INsite emailing Justine Elliot’s spokesperson, Kathryn Conroy, on 14 January, asking the minister for reasons for the delay and an expected date for the announcement. We requested the information by 25 January.

I sent a reminder on 18 January and Conroy replied that a comment would be provided by that date.

On Friday 22 January the minister released the 2009-10 ACAR details, and late on Monday 25 I received a response from Conroy as a “spokesperson” providing a brief summary of the announcement.

I thanked her for the statement but said I had picked up on Friday’s release so would quote the minister directly.

An earlier INsite request asking why the minister was withholding the Murnane psychogeriatric report led to its release (INsite, Feb / March 2009) so I may have found a key to unblocking departmental processes and reports! Megan Stoyles

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