More than 30 local seniors met with Federal Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, and Lindsay MP, David Bradbury, in St Marys on Monday as part of a national conversation on healthy and positive ageing.
The views of local seniors will help inform the Gillard Government’s response to the Productivity Commission’s Final Report, Caring for Older Australians, which recommends comprehensive reform.
At the St Marys forum, a registered nurse said the aged care system had been inadequately staffed since former Prime Minister, John Howard, changed legislation in 1997.
“We’ve worked for 13 years with really inadequate staffing numbers,” she said.
“In 1997 we had about 10 high care residents, now we have about 40 high care residents – what it means for them is that they sit and wait longer.”
Mr Butler acknowledged that staffing was an issue.
“A number of parties to this inquiry argue that there should be clear mandatory staff ratios and others say it should be more flexible because residents’ profile for facilities changes,” he said.
“We have an open mind on this issue.”
The registered nurse also spoke about aged care providers using money incorrectly, which was a result of the changed legislation, too.
“I made $700 in raffle tickets to find they decided to buy an air-conditioner for the kitchen,” she said.
The Minister said providers used to get separate money for staffing and services, but now it’s a single bucket to distribute from.
“There is no way we can be guaranteeing where the money is going, so there is this structural challenge at the moment,” he said.
A retired teacher said she was concerned about the amount of funds going into the government’s Building Education Revolution stimulus, rather than upgrading aged care facilities.
“My 94-year-old sister is in a retirement home that is very old. Across the road there is a very wealthy private school, which is having something built under the stimulus package,” she said.
“Why can’t the government put some of that money into retirement homes?”
But Mr Butler said the point of the education stimulus was to spread economic activity evenly across the country.
“The aged care sector is not in need of major new rebuilds… there are areas where there is no need,” he said.
Another registered nurse brought up the issue of aged care facilities sprucing up just in time to be accredited.
“Staff are put on to pass and as soon as they get accredited, staff get cut,” she said.
Mr Butler said the Commission made several points about the accreditation system where providers bring in “fresh flowers” to impress.