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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

OPAN roundtable highlights importance of elder input into aged care policy and reform

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Following on from the two major parties laying out their election promises in relation to aged care, elders themselves have now had their say in a lively roundtable discussion hosted by the Older Person’s Advocacy Network (OPAN) on Tuesday.

The aim of the roundtable was to highlight the voices of older people in order to maintain pressure on politicians throughout the election campaign, with the discussion guided by five prominent aged care advocates and members of OPAN’s Older Persons Reference Group:

  • Charles Linsell, aged care consumer and advocate.
  • Lesley Forster, a home care recipient and advocate for the agency and involvement of older persons in the design of their own care.
  • Lynda Henderson, a dementia and disability rights advocate and carer for someone living with a rare form of Younger Onset Dementia.
  • Mona Orszula, advocate for justice, equal rights and respect for all ages and a supporter of self-managed home care packages.
  • Robin Vote, an aged care advocate focused on home care services, with years of experience working in the health and community sector.
Moderated by Susie Dunn, the panel of advocates discussed the issues in aged care yet unaddressed by the maior parties, including the need to totally restructure the Aged Care Act, elders inability to access the NDIS and more.

One of the most pressing priorities for the group was the fact that, by and large, older people have not been consulted closely enough in the reforms process.

Whilst the newly formed Council of Elders provides some element of consultancy to the federal health department, this does not go far enough according to the group.

“There are too many people deciding what we want without proper consultation or understanding of our needs,” Forster said.

There are too many people deciding what we want without proper consultation or understanding of our needs… What’s the point of saying that older people are front and centre… if that doesn’t actually happen?

 Home care recipient, Lesley Forster

“Everyone seems to think they know better than older people themselves about what they need,” Orszula added.

“What’s the point of saying that older people are front and centre… if that doesn’t actually happen?”

Instead of being briefly consulted, Forster suggested that older people sit permanently at the table, including being given leadership roles in relevant government committees.

“There’s so much knowledge, wisdom and expertise lost by excluding older persons from the policy process… because of that old school idea that older people do not have the capacity…”

“We can learn a lot from the traditional owners of this land on how to respect our elders for their wisdom and experience,” Orszula explained.

Linsell, who ideally wants to see an end to for-profit aged care altogether, said that consultation with older persons is necessary to prevent the new act from still unfairly prioritising “the profiteers”.

The fact you are no long considered a citizen [when you enter a RACF]… many people feel imprisoned. That shouldn’t be the case and that needn’t be the case.

Carer and dementia and disability rights advocate, Lynda Henderson

“The legislation needs to be done with consultation with older people. It’s so important to include the people who are directly affected by it.”

Henderson agreed, saying that older people entering care should be treated with as much dignity and agency as any other citizen in the community.

“The fact you are no long considered a citizen [when you enter a RACF]… many people feel imprisoned.

“That shouldn’t be the case and that needn’t be the case.”

Despite various promises from both sides of the aisle, Vote said that there is still a lack of commitment to totally restructuring the Aged Care Act 1997, with a new foundation of human rights.

“I think all older persons would like to shift the act, which enshrines the rights of providers, to shift it around completely to prioritise the rights of receivers.”

Workers’ rights were also a priority for the group, who overwhelmingly supported increased pay and fairer conditions for aged care support workers.

If I were a leader I would use my influence to stamp out the blatant discrimination of denying older people access to the NDIS, as if disabilities miraculously disappear at the age of 65.

Advocate for justice, equal rights and respect for all ages, Mona Orszula

“Workers in aged care need to be revered by being paid properly, instead of having their hourly rate ripped off by aged care providers.” Forster said.

“Aged care workers must get better pay and conditions… they are overworked and underpaid and this undermines the value of the care I receive,” Orszula added.

Henderson also brought up the need for greater support for the country’s 2.65 million unpaid carers.

“We have not addressed the fact that people are working for free who otherwise would be in the workforce, and to think that young people, teenagers even, have to manage their lives whilst also caring fulltime … this is not sustainable into the future and must be addressed urgently.”

Another disparity in the system that has yet to be addressed is the fact that Australians aged over 65 are ineligible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

“I have a permanent disability … and I am one of the persons who has had to prematurely enter the aged care system,” Henderson noted.

This lack of NDIS funding for elders is another example of ageism, according to Orszula.

“If I were a leader I would use my influence to stamp out the blatant discrimination of denying older people access to the NDIS, as if disabilities miraculously disappear at the age of 65.”

Don’t assume for a moment that older people are only concerned about themselves and aged care… we don’t want to leave a legacy that will ruin the lives of our grandchildren.

Aged care and home care services advocate, Robin Vote

Forster agreed, having also experienced negligence due to this hole in the system.

“It seems so incredibly wrong to cut out a whole group of people, especially persons like myself who have had disabilities my whole life,” she said.

Vote also reminded the audience that older persons’ election priorities are not solely around aged care; climate change and other broader societal issues are also front of mind.

“Don’t assume for a moment that older people are only concerned about themselves and aged care… we don’t want to leave a legacy that will ruin the lives of our grandchildren.”

Orszula concluded that reforms to the aged care system are also looking out for the future of all Australians.

“I expect our politicians to sort out this failed aged care system now, before it’s too late.

“Not just for us, but for future generations — because we were you once, and you will be us one day.”

OPAN is calling out for more elders to become part of their Older Persons Reference Group.

To be eligible, you should be:

  • An older person who is eligible for or receiving aged care, and/or
  • A current or previous carer of someone who was receiving aged care and/or
  • A member of the community who has direct experience of aged care (eg. a health worker, aged care worker, researcher etc)

To find out more about the reference group and its activities, follow this link.

OPAN and its CEO Craig Gear have released statements regarding the upcoming election, which you can view via this link.

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