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OPAN report reveals system still with a long way to go responding to royal commission recommendations

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Barriers to care, abuse and a desperate need for a human rights-based Aged Care Act were all illustrated within a new qualitative report from the Older Person’s Advocacy Network (OPAN).

The 32 page report, titled The National Aged Care Advocacy Program 2020-2021 – Raising the voice of people accessing aged care, groups key themes emerging from their advocacy work with clients across the country, including:

  • effects of COVID-19
  • elder abuse
  • navigation of My Aged Care
  • residential care
  • in-home care

The year saw 8826 advocacy cases taken up by OPAN, with 2344 relating specifically to elder abuse.

Craig Gear, chief executive officer of OPAN, stated within the report that these figures and findings are confronting, but sadly not surprising.

“They closely reflect many of the concerns identified by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and provide further transparency to the continuing issues within the aged care system, reiterating why investment in and transformation of the aged care system is required,” Gear said.

A spokesperson from the federal department of health told Aged Care News that the report is an important piece of work that will be drawn upon to guide ongoing reforms.

OPAN chief executive officer Craig Gear OAM says that the report’s findings reiterate why investment in and transformation of the aged care system is required.

“The department regularly engages and consults with OPAN on matters of policy and program design.

“The department welcomes the report and appreciates the support OPAN provides to aged care consumers.”

The contents of the report paint a picture of a system that still has a long way to go in realising the recommendations of the royal commission.

The conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic compounded stressors for vulnerable elders, especially those living within residential aged care facilities (RACFs).

Lockdowns, reduced social visits, increased financial stress on caregivers and family members and an increased reliance on others for delivery of essential goods and services were highlighted by the report as detrimental to elders’ agency and wellbeing.

“Advocates expressed concern about the potential for COVID-19 lockdown abuse, noting that older people may not have had the ability to ask for help if they were confined or socially isolated,” the report reads.

“Advocates reported that on some occasions they would have to call 5-10 times before they were connected with an older person requiring advocacy support.

“Maintaining privacy and confidentiality was particularly challenging during this period with many facilities screening calls to residents before taking the phone into their room.”

A shortage of home care packages continues to be a pressing issue for the industry, with the report noting that many applicants are instead admitted to residential aged care against their will.

In response, the health department spokesperson said that although this remains an ongoing area of concern, a year on year assessment shows moderate progress in waiting times for home care services. 

“The number of people waiting in the national priority system for a home care package at their approved level has decreased by 25 per cent between September 30, 2020 (99,268) and September 30, .2021 (74,143),” the spokesperson said.

“For people in urgent need of care, assessed as a high priority, people are accessing their approved level Home Care Package within one month.”

However, their statement highlights that lengthy waiting times are still a problem for those assessed as medium priority.

“People assessed as a medium priority can access a level 1 Home Care Package within 3-6 months and a level 2, 3 or 4 Home Care Package within six to nine months.

“The wait time for accessing a level 2, 3 and 4 Home Care Package with a medium priority was nine to 12 months at the end of June 2021.

The OPAN report notes that in response to widespread knowledge of extensive waiting times, consumers with entry level needs are requesting to be placed on the Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT) waiting list instead of first consulting the Regional Assessment Service (RAT), intensifying the ACAT bottleneck.

One area that saw positive progress was in the continued implementation of the Advocates as Agents pilot, an OPAN and health department initiative that saw 70 advocates, aged care navigators and specialist support workers employed to guide older Australians through the onerous My Aged Care system.

However, culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) members of the community still faced barriers; efficiency in sourcing translators was an area marked for improvement, with one Aboriginal elder waiting more than 30 minutes for assistance.

“This delay placed significant stress on a vulnerable older person already struggling to understand the system and the processes involved in accessing the system,” the report reads.

How will the health department use these findings?

“Findings from this report will inform our day to day program management, including education opportunities for policy matters such as inclusions and exclusions of the Home Care Packages Program as there appears to be confusion as to what can and cannot be funded by the Government,” the spokesperson says.

“This report will also assist the design of the new support at home program and aged care act.”

This report is OPAN’s first definitive public annual report, detailing the results of The National Aged Care Advocacy Program 2020-2021.

This national report comes courtesy of a new reporting system, the ‘Minimum Data Set’, which saw the standardisation of reporting methodology across all nine of its member organisations.

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