Home | Opinion | What regional aged care requires from the Federal budget – opinion
Chief of Whiddon speaks about the upcoming budget for rural and regional aged care homes. Picture: Supplied/Whiddon

What regional aged care requires from the Federal budget – opinion

Next week, the Government will reveal their hand on whether they will honour the Aged Care Taskforce recommendations and back the reform in the Federal budget.

The Taskforce Recommendations offer a sustainable pathway for Aged Care that can deliver on the change needed; however, our many homes in regional Australia can’t be left behind.

While funding reform is one piece of the puzzle, it’s a much more complex challenge, and it requires the commitment and collaboration of both State and Federal Governments to be truly effective.

More than a third of older Australians live in rural and remote locations, yet the challenges for aged care facilities in these regions haven’t dissipated.

These include attracting and retaining staff, overcoming accommodation shortages, providing investment incentives, and addressing financial viability (with 57% of rural and remote homes continuing to operate at a loss).

Access to infrastructure and services in regional and remote Australia remains a major issue.

Demand for aged care in these communities will only increase, with another 3500 aged care beds and 2000 home care packages required over the next decade to support people in remote areas alone.

The simple reality of aged care in small regional towns is that investment and expansion are required, and we need to attract more workers to the regions.

In the absence of these critical ingredients, people have to leave their towns to find care, which is often hundreds of kilometres away.

This is as far removed from Relationship Based Care as we can get. Older people in our regional communities must remain connected to their hometowns, family, friends, and local activities to ensure a positive aging experience.

That is why it is critical that we look holistically at the best way to deliver the highest quality care in regional Australia.

If we are serious about providing quality of care in regional communities that’s equal to what we offer in the cities, then five key areas must be addressed:

  • The first and most obvious is funding – improve, or recalibrate the regional viability supplement so that it delivers the right level of funding required to cover the cost premiums experienced in regional locations.
  • Secondly, we need to encourage investment in the regions in the context of upgrading existing homes and also developing new services. Embracing the Taskforce recommendations, along with improved viability supplements, will go a long way to achieving this goal. With this said, capital grants will still be required and are the reason that Whiddon was able to upgrade homes in locations such as Bourke and Narrabri.
  • The third area that requires urgent attention relates to the workforce. The recent Fair Work pay increases directed at aged care employees, coupled with improved migrant worker strategies, are starting to make a difference. However, tax incentives, accommodation support and streamlined pathways for overseas nurses, are foundational issues that must be addressed.
  • The fourth area – and most transformative change required – is the development of an integrated approach, which breaks through government jurisdictions and unifies service providers at all levels. This will see innovative approaches to resource sharing, workforce models and community focused health strategies.
  • Finally, and importantly, a community engagement model is required – one that involves community stakeholders, from design and implementation, through to operation and service delivery. Ultimately, this is the best approach to identify community health needs, collaborate with local business, and develop long term engagement strategies, such as volunteering.

We now have an exciting opportunity to pilot this approach in the beautiful town of Temora, following NSW Health’s recent announcement of an $80 million investment in Temora Shire Hospital. While the development will expand and improve public health in the Riverina, we can leverage this investment to include aged and home care and develop a truly integrated approach.

If we want to stop short-changing our regions, it’s critical that State, Federal and Local Governments collaborate with NFP’s and other providers to disrupt the status quo.

Whiddon is committed to the regions and has a passion for delivering quality aged care, as our recent $13m redevelopment and investment works across three regional locations demonstrate. However, while we see the benefits firsthand, it requires more than the will of an NFP aged care provider to develop this new and much-needed approach.

We need brave leadership at State and Federal level, serious about making a difference to the communities and constituents they serve.

Chris Mamarelis is the chief of Whiddon.

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