Five steps to better aged care services for our regions

  • Woman talking to mature woman on park bench

More than a third of older Australians live in rural and remote locations and demand for aged care in these locations is projected to increase, yet the challenges in delivering care in regional Australia continues. These include attracting and retaining staff, overcoming accommodation shortages, providing investment incentives, and addressing financial viability (with more than half of rural and remote homes continuing to operate at a loss).

The simple reality of aged care in small regional towns is that renewal and expansion is required, and we desperately need to bolster our regional aged care workforce. In the absence of these critical ingredients, people have to access out of town, “satellite care” - which is often hundreds of kilometres away. This is as far removed from Relationship Based Care as we can get. Older people in our regional communities must remain connected to their hometowns, family, friends, and local activities to ensure a positive ageing experience.

Providing equitable access to high-quality healthcare in regional Australia is a multifaceted challenge that demands a comprehensive solution. To bridge the aged care equity gap that exists between metro and regional services, we need to address five pivotal areas.

First and foremost is the issue of funding. To adequately support aged care services in regional areas, it is essential that we recalibrate the viability supplement paid to providers in these locations. This must ensure that sufficient funds are allocated to cover the unique cost premiums experienced in these rural and remote locations. It’s a simple equation - without adequate funding, sustaining and improving our regional aged care services will continue to remain a challenge.

Secondly, fostering investment in regional aged care infrastructure is crucial. This involves not only upgrading existing facilities, but also establishing new services to meet the evolving needs of regional communities. Embracing the Aged Care Taskforce recommendations, alongside bolstered viability supplements, can stimulate investment. Capital grants also play a pivotal role here. Without these grants, aged care providers like Whiddon could not have supported the upgrade of homes in Bourke and Narrabri.

The third area demanding immediate attention is the healthcare workforce. While recent Fair Work pay rises for aged care workers and advancements in migrant worker strategies are steps in the right direction, additional measures are required. Tax incentives, accommodation support, and streamlined pathways for overseas nurses are vital in order to address workforce shortages effectively.

Perhaps the most transformative change required is the adoption of an integrated approach to healthcare delivery. Breaking down government silos and fostering collaboration among service providers at all levels is essential. This entails innovative resource-sharing strategies, dynamic workforce models, and community-centric health initiatives. By transcending bureaucratic barriers, this integrated approach can optimise healthcare delivery and resource allocation.

Finally, community engagement is critical to ensure we are genuinely addressing the needs of our regional communities. Establishing a robust model that involves stakeholders throughout the healthcare continuum – from design and implementation to operation and service delivery – is paramount. This participative approach will not only help identify community health needs accurately, but it will also foster partnerships with local businesses and cultivate long-term engagement strategies such as volunteering.

If we want to get serious about delivering the services and resources that our regional communities deserve, we require the willingness of the State and Federal Governments to collaborate, break through the legislative barriers and put community need, first and foremost. Only through a holistic and concerted effort can we ensure that all Australians, regardless of their geographic location, have access to the high-quality care they deserve.

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Submitted by Matt Burrows (not verified) on Fri, 06/14/2024 - 11:15

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Chris - a great summary that is relevant for us in the Kimberley too.  Have forwarded to the Kimberley Development Commission who are currently preparing an action plan to address sustainable ageing in the region. Might I add from a cultural perspective the benefits of staying on country.  And the benefits to a community's social fabric of having positive ageing experiences to enable families to stay together longer enabling older people to share their wisdom.  Also, the limitations to individualised funding in thin markets and the pressure the compliance regime places on small, generalist providers in the bush (in addition to that required by health, NDIS etc).  Thanks for putting pen to paper and articulating so well what many of us are seeing and feeling. 

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