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Photo: Kelly Barnes AAP

Providers overcharge and underdeliver: royal commission second hearing

On Tuesday, the royal commission heard witness testimony from home care recipient Josef Rack.

He told the commission about his seven years of frustrating home care with Southern Cross Care, where he claimed he was overcharged and ignored.

He tendered evidence to show that he was charged $536.60 monthly to receive 92 hours of RN contact per year, only to tell the commission that over the seven-year period he was with Southern Cross, he only saw an RN for approximately 20 hours.

He also told the court of his frustration at the number of different carers who came through his doors and that sometimes they weren’t even identifiable as Southern Cross employees – with no ID or uniform.

When Rack moved to Assist Home Care “because of the high cost of the charges” at Southern Care, he again struggled with the administration and their cost transparency.

Unable to procure a statement from the provider for nearly a year, Rack was eventually contacted by the government.

“I said, ‘Look, I [do not agree] with that sum. We better have a talk’ and he never came to the party to talk. And in the meantime, I also received a letter from the aged care department, saying that Assist Home Care is no longer allowed to employ new home care packages,” he said.

Rack now receives care from Hendercare and manages services himself.

In response, Southern Care representatives believe that Rack is mistaken as RNs are often referred to “in communications as their wellbeing partner”. So, he may in fact have been seeing RNs.

Also featured were four personal care workers. They told the commission of the dangers of working alone in unfamiliar areas.

They also spoke of underemployment. One witness told the commission that “apparently, they don’t have enough work, yet they keep on employing more people”.

“I only work three days a week and they say they don’t have enough work for three days of seven-and-a-half hours, minus the meal break, of work for me. And I’m thinking to myself, ‘If they don’t have enough work for a part-time employee that works three days a week, how are the full-time employees getting work?'”

When another witness was asked how the sector can attract people to aged care jobs, one worker had a simple response: “The two things are wages and the training.”

Wednesday, 20 March

On Wednesday, legally blind aged care recipient Marie Dowling spoke of the desperation she felt when dealing with My Aged Care. Dowling, who has no family in Australia, described her “anguish and desperation”.

After struggling for a year to be helped, including asking for papers in a size and font she could read, and a trip to her local MP Adam Bandt, Dowling was offered a home care package.

“Look, I felt absolutely at a loss and, being unable initially to find help, it was so stressful. And I really felt … depersonalised, worthless, unable of course to organise my own care, and I really felt demoralised by the entire process. And I think it is not fit for purpose,” she said.

“My message to the royal commission is that a review [should] be held into the engagement of disabled persons in My Aged Care.”

The commission also heard from more unnamed witnesses. The witnesses, small business people, told the commission of the difficulties they face when interacting with the Aged Care Quality Agency, recalling the adversarial nature of their dealings with the agency, leaving one carer and business person “traumatised”. They also described being referred to consultants in order to meet standards and being charged exorbitant fees.

Mary Patetsos, from the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia, told the commission of the need to ensure that CALD aged care residents and recipients receive attention at this commission.

This group, she said, is often an afterthought, and as they age, ethnically diverse people can experience isolation as they lose language skills.

“One of the key concerns I have in my work with the healthcare system – and it is the same in aged care – is that often consumer research into the needs of older people excludes people from CALD backgrounds. It is more expensive for a researcher to research someone with an interpreter than without,” she said.

The hearing continues.

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