Council of Elders – Have your say to rethink care for the elderly

Australia’s aged care system currently ticks all the wrong boxes. It is complex, unwieldy, expensive and does not provide the care older Australians have come to expect.

The Commonwealth Home Support Scheme is supposed to provide basic home care. Support staff are so limited in what they can do that they end up doing the tasks that their clients could do themselves and leaving the difficult tasks to their clients.

At first glance, the home care program is generous. However, there is a delay of approximately 12 months between the evaluation and the allocation of a package. Once awarded, the items and services that can be paid for are poorly defined, resulting in some $2.4 billion in unspent funds. Additionally, the process of releasing funds is time consuming and subject to arbitrary decisions by providers and Services Australia.

The residential care program for the elderly also presents major problems. The Royal Commission on Quality and Service in Aged Care has heard heartbreaking stories of neglect and outright abuse of vulnerable people. Support services and food quality are constrained by providers under pressure to minimize costs in order to bolster their bottom line, rather than meeting the needs of older people in care.

Commissioners made 148 recommendations. All this has been accepted by the government. However, the devil is in the details and these details need to be worked out by all stakeholders, especially older people who are current or future recipients of elderly care and those who care for them.

We now have the opportunity to change the senior care system for the better.

The process is more than just consultation. This amounts to co-designing the new Elder Care Program. To this end, the government has set up a Council of Elders, responsible for ensuring that the opinions of older people are taken into account.

The Council was created last year and has met throughout 2022 in Canberra every three months and virtually every two months. Members are informed by the Australian Department of Health and Aged Care of the particular reforms they are working on so they can provide advice that reflects the views and opinions of older Australians and how they might be affected by the proposed changes.

The appointment of Council members was made by the Ministries of Health and Aged Care and approved by the Minister. They have a wide range of skills and experiences and come from all states.

Members of WA are Dr Gill Lewin, a former Curtin University Professor of Aging with extensive experience in health and aging research and Margaret Walsh OAM, a retired nurse manager with extensive experience in services for the disabled and the elderly.

“Unlike some previous consultation attempts, this one is real,” Dr. Lewin said. “The evidence provided by members will be taken into account and used to inform the development of detailed proposals.

“My ‘constituency’ is the aging research community. I know the current issues in research, but I also want to address individuals and groups of elderly people or those who care for them.

“We also need to consult people with dementia; because many people with lived experience of dementia have much to contribute.

“It is important that people with dementia live in the community. This will help educate people about the disease and reduce the stigma associated with a diagnosis,” she said.

Ms Walsh speaks to retiree organizations including the Association of Independent Pensioners, Self Funded Pensioners of WA, National Elders, Seniors Health Network Expert Advisory Group, Seniors Advocacy Network and the COTA and the group Aged Care Reform Now, most of whose meetings she regularly attends.

She said: “Most older people are not interested in participating or consulting, but it is important.

“This is a unique opportunity to improve the senior care system. All Australians should have a say because the reform will ultimately affect us all.

“We have to get it now. This is our chance to tell the government what we want,” she said.

Margaret and Gill would like to hear any concerns or issues you have about current and proposed aged care reforms by phone, text or email, so that they can pass them on to the Department and Government.

They would also be more than happy to talk to groups/organizations or meet individuals in person. Contact them here:

Margaret Walsh 0487290097 [email protected]

Gill Lewin 0455351753 [email protected]

About Antoine L. Cassell

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