Aged care services work well without people generally paying it much attention. Occasionally, an issue achieves some coverage in the media, but mostly, services to our elderly Australians are provided 365 days of the year, out of the glare of publicity. Any media coverage is generally bad news about poor services and costs. It is rare we see a good news story about aged care.
Community benefit providers like Baptistcare find themselves constantly advocating for better funding, seeking changes in aged care policies and requesting more attention on the sector with much needed reforms while at the same time continuing to work with the Government to achieve these goals. Government, on the other hand, pays attention either to the issue of money, or bad press, but not much else, which is not good enough.
The Labour Federal Government’s aged care reforms, called the Living Longer Living Better package represented a response to about 8% of the Productivity Commission’s recommendations in their watershed report, ‘Caring for Older Australians’, issued in 2011. At the end of 2013, not much has improved, although there has been plenty of change. And now we see the Coalition Government rolling back some of the Labour agenda, but not yet defining its own commitments. It didn’t feature much in the election campaign. However, the sector is on the edge of a tsunami of change driving the implementation of customer directed care. This is the move towards self directed care and entitlements with the commitment to a fully open marketplace.
Experience overseas would suggest many of the smaller community providers will not survive these strong winds of change. These changes will include the tipping towards increasing dominance of the commercial providers in the marketplace in metropolitan, profitable areas and a reduction in the numbers of community providers, to a few, large organisations who can achieve the economies of scale, pushed to the margins and the only providers in rural and regional Australia.
I’m not sure this marketplace will benefit the customer who currently knows very little about what is happening; and for whom there is minimal information but plenty of promises. I think the loss of choice being sacrificed in the name of apparently greater effectiveness and efficiencies with dollar driven solutions will be a loss for all of us.
Speaking as a faith based provider who operates in both the metro and rural and regional WA, Baptistcare is concerned about the options being kept open to the marginalised elderly who fall between the cracks of our society. We see the cracks widening as policy settings do not take these different groups into account sufficiently. The local services aren’t able to respond and are not offered organisational strategies or sufficient funding to ensure survival. The market is not sufficiently wise and insightful enough in itself to ensure a strong civil society. It isn’t in its mandate.
This is the role of Government and Government needs to be active and engaged in ensuring that choice, diversity and opportunities are provided through appropriate policy settings for both commercial and community providers to offer services to suit not only our most articulate and confident of customers, but also those unable to make appropriate choices. The choice that should be provided to customers, must encompass small and large providers, commercial and community benefit, local and national options. A weakened civil society, homogenised and monopolised, reduced and centralised is not something to which Australia should aspire for its most vulnerable citizens.
Rev’d Dr Lucy Morris, CEO