So deeply fissured is the functionality of the aged care system that, in order to prevent total systemic collapse, industry bodies and workers alike have called for concessions to regulatory requirements.
In a situation report released on February 3 by the Australian Aged Care Collaboration (AACC), concerns were expressed that, in light of ongoing workforce shortages and cycles of furloughing as more and more workers succumb to COVID-19 infection, it is simply unfeasible for the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) to expect reporting to be filed.
“Providers have reported they continue to be required to comply with a range of reporting requirements, including for the aged care funding instrument, quality indicator reporting, and a range of other matters,” the report reads.
“Given the current workforce crisis it is not possible or responsible for providers to prioritise administrative requirements over immediate care delivery priorities.”
With this in mind, the AACC has requested that there needs to be broad relief given to providers in relation to reporting requirements until case numbers recede and the workforce situation normalises.
But consumers and their families are horrified at the prospect.
Grace Stokes, whose 96-year-old grandmother lives in a rural South Australian residential facility, witnessed firsthand the result of COVID-19-related regulatory concessions.
The provider, Edenfield Family Care – Ramsay, was found to be non-compliant with one standard in February 2021, but the ACQSC provided limited intervention or professional development due to the “exceptional standards” surrounding COVID-19.
The facility’s care proceeded to rapidly decline during 2021, to a point where it failed on all eight indicators when re-assessed in November.
“My response to that, as a family member of a vulnerable 96-year-old grandmother, who I love dearly, is that would they accept a childcare facility during COVID not being audited? Would we accept that standard in childcare? And the answer to that is absolutely not,” Stokes says.
“If my child was in a childcare facility that had failed every single standard, and then that facility was getting away with not reporting anymore: no, I would not stand by that … and I would remove my child from that facility.”
Stokes adds that diligence in aged care regulation is especially important, as low-income or rural families have limited bargaining power when things go wrong at their current facility.
“The only difference between the childcare scenario and the aged care scenario is that in aged care, you don’t have choice…
“I cannot go to Port Augusta, pick up my Nonna and move her down the road to a new home. There is not a new home for her to go to.”
On the front line, however, things are so desperate that even workers are concerned about their ability to perform to regulatory standards, especially those pertaining to COVID-19.
Tarryn (surname withheld), a Western Australian home-care worker, tells Aged Care News that she thinks colleagues working in residential care “should be thanked, not shamed” for continuing to front up to work, even if they are COVID-positive.
“I am betting they would much prefer to be in bed than bathing clients in full PPE while feeling like death,” Tarryn says.
“There is such a massive shortage of staff in many care facilities… If those workers stopped working due to COVID, the clients would be dead in mere days.
“It’s very much a double edged sword.”
She claims that shortages have acutely intensified ever since vaccine mandates were introduced.
“We have lost hundreds of workers over here in WA because they simply refused to get the jab and they had to forfeit their jobs because of it.”
Tarryn says that in their wake, workers like herself have been compelled to sacrifice much needed holidays to supplement the shortfall.
“I myself have had to pull overtime and take on extra work: I couldn’t take my annual leave over Christmas due to the shortage in staff.
“I have to wait until April to have any annual leave and I have already worked for a year with no holidays.
“And this is going to get worse before it gets better,” she says.
An ACQSC spokesperson tells Aged Care News that the governing body continues to be bound by the Aged Care Quality Standards, which requires action where key care principles have been compromised.
“Where the Commission identifies non-compliance, we take regulatory action that is appropriate and proportionate to the level of assessed risk,” the spokesperson says.
“The Commission has a number of regulatory mechanisms available, including applying sanctions, issuing a notice requiring agreement to certain actions, varying accreditation, or revoking approved provider status.”
The AACC has not responded to Aged Care News’ request for comment.