July 1 marks the new financial year, but also a significant shake-up for home care providers across the country.
A recent Fair Work Commission (FWC) ruling mandated new requirements that home care workers must be given minimum shifts of two consecutive hours, as well as added financial allowances for broken shifts.
And as providers scramble to re-adjust rosters, some are slamming the short-notice from Government on the indexation rate expected for subsidies covering the 2022/2023 financial year.
A department of health spokesperson tells Aged Care News that, traditionally, the annual budgets for both residential and home care funding are provided one week prior to its commencement on July 1.
But according to Giovanni Siano, owner and director of Geelong home care provider Home Instead, which cares for 200 older Victorians in the Geelong-region, this short notice is unacceptable, especially in such a precarious, inflationary economy.
“I really feel that the home care subsidy increase should come much earlier … considering the significant changes not only to the CPI (Consumer Price Index) but also the SCHADS Award that will leave us providers having to complete budget reviews in preparation for the new pricing come the first of July.”
Siano fears that without a clear idea how much additional funding will be available, older persons receiving care, as well as the workers supporting them, will suffer as providers conservatively brace for the new financial year.
“We’re potentially working on a budget that’s not relevant … potentially undercutting the amount of care that our clients can receive.”
Historically, home care packages have not been indexed to inflation, resulting in stagnating budgets that have resulted in less and less care available to home care recipients with each passing year.
For example, inflation in 2021 hit 3.5 per cent by the end of the calendar year, yet base-level funding for a Level 4 Home Care Package went up by $1.56 or 2 per cent — meaning a 1.5 per cent decline in funding, in real terms.
With aged care workers’ wages set to increase by 5.2 per cent come July, and further increases likely once the Fair Work Commission completes its work value case, Siano says it’s time government provided meaningful increases to aged care supplements.
“They [the subsidy rates] should really reflect the expected increase in the workforce costs,” Siano says.
“The extra 20 per cent cost in the workforce is huge, and most providers are passing that on … and that will further reduce the amount of care available to the care recipient.
“Ultimately, that puts the care recipient at risk of having to be hospitalised or potentially be moving to an aged care facility earlier than planned.”
Aged Care News asks whether increased costs are able to be absorbed by providers themselves, as opposed to effecting cuts on care provisions.
Siano replies that it’s not the case for smaller providers.
“The reality is that the admin burden on providers is significant … that has to be taken into consideration.”
Furthermore, the financial crunch is making it harder for providers like Home Instead to continue its training operations, which Siano says is necessary in order to pave a way out of the workforce crisis.
“Training and engagement costs are considerable,” he says.
“As of this year, we’ve become a Registered Training Provider, with a view to training unqualified care-givers to become certified with a Certificate III Individual Support.
“Essentially, we’re qualifying people to be able to provide services for our clients, which enables us to be able to attract people that don’t have a qualification, but do have the right heart and the right passion to be able to start a career in aged care.
“So it’s about thinking outside the box and creating the workforce that we need to be able to cope with the demand — today and tomorrow— which, as we all know, is just going to be increasing exponentially over the next 10 to 20 years.”
Siano also points to another long unresolved issue for the home care sector: waiting lists.
Whilst 40,000 new home care packages will be made available in the 2022–23 financial year, this will not be enough to immediately aid the 60,000 older Australians who are still waiting for approval.
“Ideally, we don’t want to have a waiting list. We want an older person to receive their home care package within a couple of weeks,” Siano says.
“Anything above a month should be unacceptable, in my opinion.”
The Federal Government has been afforded $10.8 million to support the design of the new Support at Home program, which will come into effect in July 2023.
At the end of 2021, 217,724 senior Australians had access to a home care package and 825,383 received support through CHSP.