An assessor in the Approved Provider Program Section of the Department of Health, whose identity has been suppressed, has told the royal commission that many potential aged care providers are, in their opinion, “bottom feeders”.
The witness, who was referred to as BE, gave a statement that lays out the problems, as they see it, in a government department “burnt-out” and “exhausted” over the last two years due to understaffing and policy changes.
Reforms of the sector from February 2017 have had “devastating consequences” on the department and the quality of care available, and the removal of the Aged Care Approvals Round (ACAR) for home care packages in particular has led to a “free-for-all attitude amongst provider applicants” who “began to apply in unimaginable numbers”.
Prior to the removal of ACAR, BE’s statement said that home care needed approval from their team and now there is no “second vetting” stage, which makes the process “dangerous for older Australians”.
BE told the commission they came forward as the inadequacy of staffing levels at the department means they cannot do their job and are “saddened” that their primary concern is keeping “unscrupulous, unsuitable and quite frankly, dangerous applicants out of the aged care system”.
Due to myriad changes to the sector, BE said they believe that there is “little support for ensuring the robustness of the assessment process at the front end of the sector”.
As for the calibre of some applicants, BE’s assessment was damning.
“The reason I refer to them as ‘bottom feeders’ is the quality of their applications is so poor. It is so obvious that they have not even taken the time to read the guidance for applicant,” they said.
“They don’t understand what their responsibilities would be as an approved provider. [There are home care applicants that] will have references in there to legislation which does not exist.”
When asked by counsel assisting Timothy McEvoy what portion of applicants would fall into this category, BE replied: “I would say eight out of 10 of them. I pick them up and I start reading them and I just – I look, and I go, ‘Here we go again’.”
Also heard at the commission was Lynda Henderson, a carer to her partner, Veda Maneghetti, who has dementia.
Henderson told the commission that Maneghetti’s home care package curtailed her freedom and changed her life entirely.
“It didn’t help her at all in that, in fact, she almost opposed it, so I think this is a quite common thing with a number of people who are newly diagnosed with dementia,” Henderson said.
“What was difficult for Veda is that because she is a very independent person who has always made her own decisions, has had a most unusual life, travelling, etcetera, to be told that, ‘You can’t do this, and you can’t do that. No, you can’t have your friend come and do the cleaning anymore and no, you can’t have another friend come and do the gardening and a bit of maintenance around the house’.”
Henderson also told the commission of the hardship the pair experienced while Maneghetti waited for an upgrade in her home care package.
“I can tell you that during the six months when Veda was waiting on a level 4 package, because her ACAT had had to be reviewed within four months, her symptoms had progressed so fast and so wildly,” she said.
“I really think I’m still getting over post-traumatic stress from that six months because I was the only person supporting her for 20 hours a day for six months.”
In counsel assisting McEvoy’s opening address, we heard that informal carers contribute 1.9 billion hours of care to the aged care system, or the equivalent of approximately $6 billion of care.
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