Home care industry faces crackdown amid concerns over quality of providers
Another key area of Australia’s aged care industry is facing a crackdown, with the Aged Care Minister to review whether it has been too easy for home care businesses to enter the sector.
- The home care industry is booming as more elderly people choose in-home services
- The Government will review whether registration requirements for home care providers need tightening
- Three home care businesses have recently been sanctioned by the Government
It comes as the Government struggles to fund a ballooning waitlist for home care packages of almost 127,000.
Federally subsidised home care packages can be used to pay for personal care like bathing and other help including cooking, cleaning and gardening.
Since 2016 the number of home care providers has exploded, with close to 900 businesses now offering in-home services.
Three home care providers have been sanctioned in the past year. Sanctions are the highest Commonwealth reprimand issued over serious concerns about care.
7.30 has learned Adelaide-based Home Nursing Solutions was sanctioned in November.
Another Adelaide provider, Assist Home Care, failed all but one of 18 home care standards when assessed in September.
Sydney-based Comfort Home Care failed all but two of the standards in May.
The standards cover everything from corporate governance to staff numbers and training. As a penalty, the Commonwealth withholds funding for new clients for a period of six months.
Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt said he had no sympathy for providers which were not up to scratch.
“If you don’t meet the standards then expect sanctions,” Mr Wyatt told 7.30.
“You expect providers to be ethical, to set a standard for themselves that delivers to senior Australians. I think we will see more that will be sanctioned.”
Assist Home Care and Comfort Home Care declined to be interviewed. The Commonwealth found there was “an immediate and severe risk to the health, safety and wellbeing of clients” at both businesses.
Comfort Home Care has now been found compliant after making improvements.
A statement on the website of Home Nursing Solutions said the company had decided to “opt out” of providing home care packages.
“To pay consultants who have been recommended by ACQS (Aged Care Quality Standards) to update our paperwork and procedures, was going to cost another $130,000 over and above what we have spent already — and we simply cannot afford this,” the statement said.
“It is clear now that there is no thought given to smaller operators such as ours, who simply do not have the staff or funds to focus on this much administration in such a short time frame.”
Review welcomed by the sector
Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt expects more home care providers to be sanctioned. (AAP: David Moir)
Mr Wyatt said the Government would review whether registration requirements for homecare providers needed tightening.
“If there is a problem with the way we do it then we’ll make changes,” Mr Wyatt said.
Ian Yates from Council on the Ageing said scrutiny of the residential aged care sector had been well publicised and he was pleased home care would now come under the microscope, by both the Government and the upcoming Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.
The first formal hearing of the royal commission will take place on January 18.
“We’re pleased to see that we’re beginning to get sanctions in the home care space because what happens in that space is just as important as what happens in a bedroom in a residential care facility,” Mr Yates told 7.30.
He said some home care providers were using pushy techniques to sign clients up and that needed to stop.
“We have seen some more aggressiveness in home care provision and we have seen some door-to-door sales. We have referred those to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission,” he said.
Price gouging ‘completely unacceptable’
Lynda Henderson, pictured left, organised home care for her friend Veda Meneghetti, right. (ABC News)
Veda Meneghetti was diagnosed with early onset dementia six years ago.
Her friend Lynda Henderson said Ms Meneghetti, 68, switched home care providers last year because she was unhappy with some of the charges, including $90 for gardening work.
“The gardening service that we were obliged to use ended up charging double the going rate in this area and that ended up coming out of Veda’s funds,” Ms Henderson said.
“It’s frustrating to see funds that are desperately needed being wasted.
“The previous provider charged a total of 34 or 35 per cent from Veda’s federal allocation. The current provider charges just 14 per cent.”
Mr Wyatt said price gouging of senior Australians was “completely unacceptable” and from last month the Government had made it compulsory for home care providers to publish their fees online.
But Mr Yates said other changes to stop price gouging were not happening quickly enough.
“Getting aged care has been so opaque, so hard to understand. That gives unscrupulous providers room to move behind the scenes when, if it was open and transparent, they would be exposed,” he said.
Sean Rooney from Leading Age Services Australia, the national peak body for home care providers, said anyone concerned about what they are being charged should make a complaint.
“The industry absolutely supports transparent and efficient pricing mechanisms to make sure consumers can make an informed choice,” Mr Rooney said.
“I think it’s fair to say the majority of providers in aged care are doing the right thing.”
‘They have to provide more funding’
Margaret Jolly’s father, Arthur Fellows, is waiting for a home care package. (Picture: Michael Atkin)
Horror stories of elder abuse in residential aged care have led to intense public scrutiny and contributed to more people wanting to grow old in their own home, with assistance.
Margaret Jolly’s father, 96-year-old Arthur Fellows, is waiting for a home care package.
He currently receives a $15,000 annual home care package but the Government has conceded it is no longer enough to meet his growing needs, approving him for a new package worth more than double that.
“These people have paid taxes all their life, they have been contributing members of society and they’re left to atrophy in their own homes,” Ms Jolly said.
7.30 was there when Ms Jolly phoned Federal Government agency My Aged Care to check on the progress of her dad’s package. She was told the wait would be more than 12 months.
Ms Jolly was worried her dad would die waiting for it.
“My dad’s 96. Twelve months-plus, he may not be here at that time,” she said.
“I heard of a woman recently who received notification 18 months after her mother-in-law died that her mother-in-law had been approved for a level three home care package. That is just unacceptable in this country.
“They have to provide more funding. They have to find the money and provide more funding.”
The Federal Government has committed more than $1.8 billion over the forward estimates for new home care packages, but it is not enough to clear the backlog amid a rapidly ageing population.
Mr Wyatt understood people’s frustrations but said a quick fix was impossible.
“Even now we provide 2,300 packages a week, but that’s still not enough in the number of Australians who are ageing and who want to live at home,” he said.