Government proposals could erode quality of aged care

Charles Sturt University academic Dr Maree Bernoth is using this NSW Senior's Week to highlight proposed changes to government legislation she believes could erode the quality of residential aged care.


A lecturer at CSU's School of Nursing, Midwifery and Indigenous Health in Wagga Wagga, Dr Bernoth's research has focused on the experiences of older people living in residential care and rural older people.


"Senior's week [in New South Wales] is an opportunity to celebrate the contribution of older people to our communities and our country and demonstrate our respect and appreciation for their lives," she said.


"One group of older people than can be easily overlooked is those residing in residential aged care facilities.


"Three significant potential changes to legislation at a federal and state level have the capacity to further deteriorate the quality of care afforded to the most vulnerable of our Senior Citizens and must be highlighted."


Dr Bernoth said at a national level there's likely to be changes to the way that complaints about residential care are handled and a reduction in the frequency of assessing standards.


"There are changes proposed to legislation governing aged care that will impact on the Aged Care Complaints Scheme, the government body responsible for investigating complaints," said Dr Bernoth.


"This could mean that all but serious complaints will be the responsibility of the residential care facility itself, rather than an independent body.


"I'm concerned this will make it more difficult for abuse to be uncovered and there have been recent examples in NSW, Queensland and Victorian residential aged care facilities."


Meanwhile, a trial is underway in South Australia where aged care facilities are accredited by the federal government every five years instead of every three years.


"There will still be the unannounced visits but the full accreditation for residential care facilities will be extended by two years," said Dr Bernoth.


"The monitoring process certainly requires change but the community needs to be assured that the $44 million being invested in aged care and community services over the next four years is providing high quality care and not merely bolstering profits."


Dr Bernoth is also calling for the NSW Government to extend legislation to ensure Registered Nurses are on duty at all times in residential aged care.


"Currently in NSW, there is a requirement that nursing homes have a Registered Nurse on duty at all time and a Director of Nursing but this is only until the end of 2015," said Dr Bernoth.


"These Registered Nurses can provide the skilled care required for older people with complex needs, for those with multiple chronic health issues, multiple medications regimes, with cognitive impairment and for those requiring palliative care.


"The NSW Government is consulting on this issue but the consultation process is predominantly with industry and does not involve the public.


"Senior citizens and their contributions should be a constant consideration of society in general and our politicians. Australian society should demand quality of life for those who have provided us with our quality of life".


16 March 2015.