A powerful aged care industry group featured in Four Corners‘ Monday night exposé is pushing for aged care residents to be charged more than double the current maximum fee for daily living costs.
Residents in aged care homes are already forced to sacrifice 85 per cent of the aged pension to cover daily living costs, but according to Leading Age Services Australia – the peak body representing Australia’s private and not-for-profit aged care services – they are not paying enough.
Despite aged care homes receiving nearly $12 billion in taxpayer dollars last year, LASA revealed in a report released last week that it has lobbied to raise “consumer contributions” – the “basic daily fee” elderly residents pay to cover “living costs” such as meals, cleaning, laundry, heating and cooling.
Australia’s aged care industry, which generates annual revenues of around $22 billion, has come under intense scrutiny following Monday’s airing of the first in a two-part investigation by ABC’s Four Corners.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who in 2016 slashed $1.2 billion from the aged care budget, also announced a royal commission into the sector.
Four Corners shone a spotlight on the harrowing living conditions, neglect, and abuse suffered by elderly residents in aged care homes across the country.
— 4corners (@4corners) September 17, 2018
One of the heart-wrenching stories was that of Holocaust survivor Neda Borenstein. In 2016, Mrs Borenstein’s son Michael put a hidden camera in his mother’s room in Charlesbrook nursing home after she complained to him about neglect and mistreatment.
The devastating footage revealed Mrs Borenstein was routinely left in a soiled bed for hours on end, and resorted to singing at the top of her lungs in a desperate and unsuccessful attempt to get attention and assistance from staff.
“When I watched the video I thought, ‘At least my mum can still communicate, and she’s still able to say, ‘Hey, this is happening to me’. I can’t even imagine what’s happening to those people that can’t talk any more,” Mr Borenstein said.
World War II veteran Catherine Logan paid a refundable bond of $360,000 and 85 per cent of her pension to move to Sydney’s Lewisham Nursing Home in 2016.
Her granddaughter, Dayna Vereguth, documented the appalling neglect suffered by Ms Logan, which included being left sitting next to a commode full of faeces, without functioning hearing aids, and to suffer through excessive heat without a fan or air-conditioning.
“She couldn’t hear and she could smell that there was faeces next to her and she knew she had to press a button, of which she was scared to do, because she didn’t know the response that she would get from the staff member that would come,” Ms Vereguth said.
More than 1300 aged care workers from across the country contacted Four Corners with stories of an industry in crisis according to the ABC.
— Sally Neighbour (@neighbour_s) September 17, 2018
Aged care residents’ basic daily fees could double
The basic daily fee is currently set at $50.16 per day or $702.24 per fortnight (the single rate of the basic age pension is $826.20 per fortnight), and is paid by every aged care resident in addition to means-tested care fees, accommodation costs, and fees for extra and additional services.
In a review of ACFA’s latest annual report on the funding and financing of aged care, LASA highlighted ACFA’s claim that “the cost of providing the services that the basic daily fee is expected to cover (hotel services such as food, linen, utilities etc.), are closer to $75 per day than the maximum $50 currently able to be charged”.
“Usefully, ACFA does recognise the importance of reform of consumer contributions and LASA had advocated on the adoption of the Tune recommendations on consumer contributions as a minimum,” LASA said.
The “Tune recommendations” refer to a 2017 review of aged care legislation led by David Tune, which recommended that age care providers be allowed to charge higher daily fees in excess of $100 to “non-low means” residents.
LASA bills itself as “the voice of aged care”, yet chief executive Sean Rooney had little to say when questioned by Four Corners on allegations of widespread mistreatment and neglect in Australia’s nursing homes.
Reporter Anne Connolly quizzed Mr Rooney on LASA’s opposition to mandating staff-to-resident ratios for nursing homes, similar to those in place for childcare centres and hospitals.
When pushed on how many registered nurses and carers should be available for residents with high-level care needs, Mr Rooney refused to pinpoint an appropriate number.
“It’s not for me to know. I’m not a clinician. It’s not my role to be able to determine that,” he said.
However, the LASA boss did have an opinion on the nutritional requirements of elderly residents when asked whether “it’s appropriate for nursing homes to spend $6 a day per resident on food”.
“These meals are being prepared for people that have a low nutrition requirement. This is not people that are eating four-course meals,” Mr Rooney said.
More than 50 per cent of residents in aged care homes are estimated to be malnourished, studies show.