As I meet constituents in the Bradfield constituency, where I am running as an independent candidate in the federal election, I hear countless sad stories about elder care.
It could be their father, who has Alzheimer’s disease but is determined not to enter a home despite the burden of caring for his wife of 60 years. Or it could be a sister whose depression worsened after months of self-isolation in care during COVID lockdowns.
Or a mother who died months after she first asked for help to stay at home, still on a waiting list for help.
the health department reports that 3,802 people died while waiting to be assigned a home care package in the last half of 2021.
Some stories come from the staff: an exhausted nurse working double shifts because rosters can’t be filled. Or a caregiver who is left alone for an overnight shift, responsible for dozens of patients.
People tell me that they are worried and afraid that their loved ones will be taken care of, because of what they have heard from friends, seen in the media or experienced first hand. At last count, we have 20 aged care facilities in Bradfield. We have one of the oldest voter profiles of any voter in Australia, with around 1,400 people living in residential care.
Like the rest of Australia, these residents are likely to spend more than two years in care on average. It’s the last house they know. Bradfield voters are lucky compared to others: we can pay for the best care on offer, and yet we clearly still have problems.
And good elder care shouldn’t be a postcode lottery, it should be accessible to everyone, no matter where they live. Fairness and compassion underpin our Social Security and Medicare system. But these values no longer underpin our senior care system.
We know what are the problems are: an overworked and underpaid workforce, a complex and confusing funding model, and weak regulation and oversight. And, at bottom, shareholder benefits take priority over the needs of vulnerable people. Too much responsibility has been handed over for too long to senior care conglomerates whose only motivation is profit. This business model does not work for health care.
COVID has blasted this grand opening, exposing what happens in nursing homes for the elderly when we allow shareholder profits to override people’s needs. The chaos of the first pandemic, with residents locked in rooms, left to die alone, suffer, is the result of decades of inadequate government funding and weak oversight. And this chaos continues.
More … than 800 older Australians died of COVID in the first two months of this year.
Don’t Australians simply value the lives of older people? I don’t think that’s the case, and the stories I hear are proof of that. Fragile and vulnerable people are part of our society and we must take care of them properly. We want everyone, including ourselves eventually, to live in safety and dignity in old age.
There is no simple solution to this, but the ‘Royal Commission on the Quality and Safety of Care for the Aged‘ and countless other reviews have told us what needs to be done. We need up to one million elderly and disabled care workers over the next three decades. To attract them, we need higher wages, better working conditions and greater job security. We need migration settings that encourage workers.
We need better ministerial oversight and an effective regulator with stronger powers. Residents and their families need to know where their money is going. The federal government must monitor exactly how taxpayers’ money is spent.
Minister for Aged Care by Richard Colbeck failure shows what can happen when oversight is weak. Elder care should be a practice-level portfolio. And we need a way to pay for all of this to ensure the sector is well funded as Australia’s population ages. Australia currently spends 1.2% of GDP on care for the elderly, less than half of what comparable countries do.
More importantly, we need new laws that put the rights and needs of older people above the profit motive of operators. The Royal Commission has recommended a new Aged Care Act to do just that.
If elected, I will push for these laws to be passed. The Morrison government has pledged $17.7 billion and a new law, but we are unlikely to see it before the election. Add it to a long list of expensive ads and broken promises.
Rather than protecting older Australians and giving them safety and dignity, this government’s ruthless response is to hope the problem goes away: hidden away in care homes for the elderly in suburbs and cities, out of sight and away from the polls.
In federal elections, we can all take a stand for older Australians and vote for those who support fully funded and transparent aged care that allows us to spend our remaining years in safety and dignity.
Nicolette Boele is the independent candidate from Bradfield, NSW, endorsed by the Bradfield’s voice. She is a sustainability and responsible investment manager who has worked with the Climate Change Investor Group. You can follow Nicolette on Twitter @Nicolette_Boele.
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