Australia’s aged care sector faces a fresh scandal, with the consumer watchdog accusing the nation’s biggest for-profit provider of ripping off residents.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is taking multi-national healthcare giant Bupa to court for allegedly making false and misleading claims about the services it provides at more than a quarter of its aged care facilities.
Bupa is alleged to have charged residents at 21 of its 78 aged care homes thousands more a year for extra services that it did not provide.
The alleged fees-for-no-service rort spanned more than a decade, from December 2007 to June 2018.
ACCC chair Rod Sims alleged Bupa failed to provide or fully provide services promised in residential agreements, but charged for them anyway.
“In some cases the alleged misleading representations related to services that were significant to the quality of life of elderly residents,” Mr Sims said.
“The promised services were likely also what attracted many residents and their families to choose Bupa.”
Some of the promised services include air-conditioning in all bedrooms, covered outdoor exercise areas, fully equipped physiotherapy rooms, hot breakfasts and travel escorts for outside appointments.
Other activities include separate leisure activity spaces, large talking book libraries and tactile and sensory walkways.
Additionally, to assist those living with dementia ‘smart room’ technology systems were promised.
Australia’s aged care sector has been under increasing public scrutiny following shocking revelations of appalling conditions in nursing homes, systemic understaffing, and mistreatment of residents by ABC’s Four Corners in September.
In October, the federal government announced a royal commission into aged care quality and safety, with an interim report due by October 31 and the final report by April 30, 2020.
Australia’s residential aged care industry is made up of 902 companies that provide 200,689 residential places.
The industry’s major players include six big for-profit companies: Bupa, Opal, Allity, Regis, Estia and Japara.
According to a report by IBISWorld, aged care providers will make $1.7 billion in profits over the 2018-19 financial year.
The ACCC’s proceedings against Bupa relate to 11 homes in NSW, seven in Victoria, two in Queensland and one in Tasmania – with each facing different allegations.
NSW homes include Bankstown, Mosman, Tamworth and more. In Victoria Berwick, Caulfield and Croydon are among those were affected while in Queensland New Farm and Glenvale were listed.
In Berwick residents were promised the choice of three hot dishes for breakfast and their favourite meal at least twice a week – it’s alleged these services were not provided or only provided in part.
Bupa says the extra services were additional ‘hotel type’ services to provide a higher accommodation standard, but were not clinical or health services.
An internal investigation has been conducted and Bupa has repaid about 550 residents with interest.
Bupa’s aged care managing director Jan Adams apologised to residents and families in a statement.
“We are committed to addressing this to put things right,” Ms Adams said.
“We have made significant changes to our systems to ensure this does not happen again.”
The ACCC commenced its investigation after Bupa notified it of the conduct, and Bupa no longer offers extra services in its aged care homes.