Young people may be our lifeblood, but older people are the heart of electorate of Indi. 20.9% of our population is aged 65 years or older, higher than the Australian average of 16.5 per cent. With their children raising families of their own, a lifetime of experience behind them, and freed from the strictures of work, older people make an enormous contribution to our social, cultural and economic life.
It’s in no small part thanks to them that Indi holds the title of Australia’s most neighbourly electorate. We look out for, and after, each other. I saw this during the recent bushfire crisis, with older people volunteering in their hundreds in relief centres and in the recovery effort.
It’s no surprise that people prefer to grow old where they belong. I hear again and again from my constituents that they want to age in place, in their own home, surrounded by things they love, the garden, their pets, in their community and close to family, with support when they need it. Home Care Packages allow them to do just that, while relieving pressure on residential care facilities and costing the taxpayer less.
Given these benefits, it’s a mystery to me why we continue to have such extraordinarily long waiting times for Home Care packages. While the wait list for Level 4 packages has shrunk recently, the official wait time is still more than 12 months between approval and assignment of a package. The actual wait time is likely to be higher. According to Department of Health data in the Aged Care Royal Commission interim report, the average wait time in 2017–18 was 22 months for a Level 4 Package.
Forcing people to wait more than 12 months for the highest level of support is nothing short of a cruel dashing of hope. My constituents and their families are growing frustrated and despairing as they continue to wait.
Phyllis Davidson is a 95 year old woman from Wangaratta. She’s independent and committed to aging in place, with support of her family and the excellent Aged and Community Care team at the Rural Council of Wangaratta. In December 2018 she was assessed and approved for a Level 4 package. Then she began the waiting game. In February 2020, after a 14-month wait, her family was told that she was still on a 9-12 month waiting list.
After intervention from my office, Phyllis was approved for a Level 2 package as an ‘interim measure’ while she waits for the appropriate package. And waits. Her family are increasingly frustrated at the opaque waiting list, the one-way communication with MyAgedCare, and problems accessing online updates.
Phyllis doesn’t want to be a burden on the system. But in keeping her waiting, the Government may be giving her no choice. We know that longer wait times for Health Care packages have been associated with higher risk of mortality and entry into permanent residential care after two years. How much longer will she have to wait to get the support she is entitled to?
The saddest thing about the wait list is that the Government controls the levers, and has decided to cap packages significantly below demand. It could fund more packages tomorrow and reduce the waiting list to something resembling a humane compromise. Another constituent who is caring for his 97-year-old mother while she awaits her Level 3 package told me:
‘The prioritising of balancing a budget over the necessary care of our elderly in their own homes is a priority that I cannot and will not reconcile with an Australia that takes cares of our people as a first priority’.
The Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians says the Government is committed to improving the aged care sector and points to its unprecedented investment in aged care. This shouldn’t be newsworthy. We’ve got more senior Australians than any time in our history. The problem is that the investment is nowhere near enough.
I congratulated the Government when it announced 10,000 more packages in response to the interim report’s recommendations. But the problems continue persist and more must be done.
I encourage the government to increase their rate of releasing new packages to clear the backlog. And, if the government cannot solve the problem, then we need to legislate maximum waiting times so that, in the future, older people can be certain of getting the right amount of care at the time that they need it, and before they die waiting.
[March 2, 2020]