Aged care homes buckle under Labor’s tough rules
At least 23 aged-care homes have shut their doors since September last year as the sector grapples with Labor’s stringent reforms, including 24/7 mandatory registered nurses and minimum care requirements.
According to figures from the Department of Health and Aged Care provided in a question on notice to opposition aged care spokeswoman Anne Ruston, 17 residential services closed down between September 1 last year and February 28.
The new figures have been released publicly after aged care provider Wesley Mission in April announced plans to shut all three Sydney homes, citing difficulty in attracting and retaining staff to meet the government’s targets that will take effect on July 1.
West Australian operator Brightwater Care Group last month confirmed the closure of three Perth homes after the company was unable to find enough staff to meet the new mandate.
Of the 17 homes closed from September to February, the vast majority were in metropolitan areas, despite Aged Care Minister Anika Wells’s claims that only regional and rural homes were struggling to meet the new rules.
The department named several providers that had closed their doors, including Wynwood Nursing Home, Marlowe Homes, Trinity Care Burwood, the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of Malta in NSW and Allambi Elderly Peoples Home.
Two new providers opened aged care homes during in the same time, including Park Beach Residence in NSW and Sunnycare Residential in Queensland.
Ms Wells said there were “more beds opening than closing in aged care” and, since July 1 2019, the “number of operational residential care places nationally has increased by more than 6500 places”.
“Since July 1 2021, 47 services have opened, with 11 opening in regional areas. The Albanese government is investing $20.4bn in residential aged care in 2023-24, up from $16.4bn in 2022-23,” she said.
However, the sector is scrambling to implement a suite of reforms including mandated minutes of care per resident, quality and safety standards, and full-time nursing requirements as it adjusts to a new funding model brought in last October as recommended by the aged care royal commission.
The overhaul comes as financial troubles plague the sector, with the latest figures from the Quarterly Financial Snapshot of the Aged Care Sector revealing 66 per cent of private providers are operating at losses, with homes losing an average of $28 per resident each day.
“The Albanese government is confident there will be a positive increase in the finances of providers when the next quarterly results come through,” Ms Wells told The Australian.
As the sector grapples with a major shortfall of workers and a deteriorating financial outlook, Aged & Community Care Providers Association chief executive Tom Symondson warned the pace of reforms must be “manageable” for providers and “not exacerbate an already challenging situation”.
Mr Symondson said the shutdowns were concerning but “understandable in the current reform climate”.
“We understand and support the need for well-designed reform, but we need to work with the government to ensure the pace of change is manageable for aged-care providers and does not exacerbate an already challenging situation,” he said.
With ACCPA predicting further aged care closures, it is working with the Older Persons Advocacy Network to develop an agreed protocol for homes to follow in order to support elderly Australians through a period of significant upheaval.
OPAN chief executive Craig Gear said aged care closures were distressing for elderly Australians and their families and called on the federal government to ensure they were supported during their transition to new homes.
“We are calling for providers to work with our members to engage early with residents and bring them into the mix early into the planning process,” he said.
“Appropriate communication and oversight by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission is really important … We hope to prevent the need for a closure but when it happens, support must be provided.”
Of the 17 homes closed from September to February, 12 were in NSW, three in Victoria, and one each in Queensland and South Australia.
Senator Ruston said Labor’s requirements were forcing older Australians to be “kicked out of their homes” and to move “miles away from their community”.
She called on the government to extend the exemption criteria currently available only for a small number of homes in regional and remote areas.
“Labor’s reckless decision to bring forward the royal commission’s recommendation to have 24/7 registered nurses in aged care homes – in the middle of a workforce crisis – has placed enormous stress on the entire aged-care sector,” she said.
This article first published in The Australian by Jess Malcolm, 23 May 2023. Read article