The aged care sector needs more funding, more staff, better training and better food. So far, so ‘same old story’. ABC’s Q&A cast its gaze on aged care this week with a panel comprised of familiar faces for those knowledgeable about the sector.
LASA CEO Sean Rooney and advocate and writer Sarah Holland-Batt appeared alongside celebrity chef and food enthusiast Maggie Beer. However, a rare treat was on offer as the two federal politicians tasked with looking after the sector also appeared on the panel.
Alas, any casual observers hoping the aged care minister Richard Colbeck and his opposite number, Labor’s Julie Collins, would offer any serious insight into the issues facing the industry would have left disappointed, while the rest of us know the story.
Monash professor Joseph Ibrahim, sitting in the audience, kicked off proceedings by asking the panellists if they, like many Aussies, would rather die early than enter an aged care home.
Colbeck went with a “I wouldn’t share that view” defence. Followed up closely by the observation that the sector is in “a process of continuous reform”.
Collins replied to Ibrahim’s question by saying that we need to act now, not at the end of the royal commission and pivoted to thank the staff who are “holding the system together” despite the stress of underfunding. Classic opposition work.
As the questions from the audience flew in, ranging from food to staff ratios and dementia and medical restraints, host Fran Kelly took the aged care minister to task on funding.
“We are talking about ‘we need more training of the carers. We need more people involved… we need more money-per head spend on meals’. Are you getting the feeling that you’re going to need to put a lot more money into aged care?” Cue chuckles from the audience at the point scored.
“It’s clear that the industry is under pressure,” came the reply.
The dropped ball was happily picked up by Rooney – his superior aged care experience showing here – who replied that “if we want a world-class aged care system, it’s going to require world class funding”.
Collins came close to scoring some points throughout the night, getting aged care workers on side with comments on staffing, telling the audience that we need better paid and trained staff. But she fell short of committing to ratios or minimum staff numbers. She came close again when discussing poor provider performance and accreditation.
The safety commissioner needs more power she said, and penalties need to be meted out to repeat offenders.
“Criminal?” Host Kelly asked twice. Not to be drawn too deeply into an opinion Collins replied simply “penalties”. So close.
And Colbeck’s view on ratios? “A simple and blunt instrument,” that has no evidence base he said.
— ABC Q&A (@QandA) 7 October 2019
The best insights were left to the rest of the panel and the audience.
Ibrahim, again from the sidelines, gave a withering assessment of both governments. Talking about prescription medicines used as restraints, but obviously talking about the sector as a whole, Ibrahim called out the “lack of leadership” shown. Governments over the last decade have known about the issues but done nothing he said.
“We lack respect for older people, lack bipartisan approaches to it and the parliament generally has been gutless about addressing aged care issues for the last 10 to fifteen years,” he said to cheers.
Perhaps he should have been on the panel.
Holland-Batt spoke about the lack of transparency when it comes to funding which she said was being “rorted” and bemoaned the large shareholder payouts made by the big providers who get massive government funding.
She also wants improved work when complaints come in after her brush with a regulator she described as “useless, completely useless”. It took a whistle-blower to come forward for her father’s abuse to come to light – at a fully accredited facility – only for the regulator to decide after one phone call that his case was suitable for early resolution, before any investigation was undertaken.
“I get the sense that the regulator is very interested in having statistics like ‘oh so many cases are resolved within 30 days’, as though that means that everything has been robustly investigated, wrapped up and everyone is happy,” she said.
The one thing everyone, audience, panel, journalist, can agree on is that Maggie Beer is good people.
— ABC Q&A (@QandA) 8 October 2019
She brought her common-sense food and love-based approach to the panel and the last question of the night was saved for her.
The audience member started by telling Maggie that when she grows up, she wants to be Maggie and then asked if we as a community need to start to celebrate ageing.
“Absolutely. Celebrating age is what we should be doing,” Maggie replied.
“There has got to be joy and there has got to be pleasure… and the will to be engaged and to be part of the community… and love life, that is what we should all be doing.”
Maggie for aged care minister?Do you have an idea for a story?
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