COTA Australia is circulating a petition calling on new health minister Greg Hunt to reverse a 2006 decision to exclude people in aged care from a Medicare-funded mental health program.
Ian Yates, chief executive of COTA Australia, said over 175,000 older Australians living in residential aged care are ineligible to access Medicare-funded psychological treatment through the Better Access to Mental Health Care program.
Yates said the situation was a throwback to a time when people were “put away” in nursing homes and not seen as part of the community.
“Thankfully, today most older people in residential aged care stay connected to their local communities, and have all the rights of citizenship,” Yates said. “Yet this policy still treats them as though they are institutionalised and without any control over their own lives.”
He said the anomaly hinges on the theory that aged-care providers will step in but added this happens far too infrequently, is less well funded, and residents are not in control of the process.
“Only around 2 per cent of all people in aged care access appropriate mental health services,” he said. “Given the high incidence of depression and other mental health conditions suffered by residents of aged-care facilities there is clearly a problem here that needs to be urgently addressed.”
The petition said reversing the “out-of-date provision” is a great way to ensure residents have the same control over their mental health as all other Australians.
Yates said: “The new minister for health needs to make this an urgent and early priority. We are calling on him to take it to Cabinet where the government must agree to reverse this historical anomaly so that nursing home residents have the same access to mental health services as everyone else.”
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