The Federal Budget 2023–24 made some fantastic commitments for the health and aged care sectors that are much needed and very welcome – most significantly, $11.3 billion to increase the wages of aged care workers and changes to bulk billing.
While many of these measures will support regional, rural and remote communities, these are communities that have unique challenges that cannot be forgotten. Supporting targeted initiatives that respond to the distinctive issues they face is the best way to deliver the most benefit.
Innovative, community-based, collaborative models hold a solution not just for aged care but for comprehensive community health, by looking at care holistically, delivering innovation in the system itself, and incentivising staff to train and remain regionally.
At Chinchilla, Southern Cross Care Queensland is looking to deliver just this – partnering with the local Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, Goondir, and Southern Queensland Rural Health (SQRH), we are currently working to secure funding for a multidisciplinary Age Well Community Centre.
This concept is backed by the data and research.
Across the country, only 1.6 per cent of the aged care places available are provided by multipurpose services – facilities that enable access in regional, rural and remote areas to a mix of aged care, health and community services.
However, research from UTS shows policies and programs that support healthy ageing can lessen the demands for more acute and costly aged care services and deliver a reduction in avoidable hospitalisations.
Health workforce data also clearly shows the disparities in health professionals accessible to regional and remote communities – most strikingly psychologists, who are less than half as available to the population in outer regional areas as in major cities.
The proposal at Chinchilla would deliver expanded aged care services, a new training hub to grow a pool of qualified professionals and access to allied health professionals who otherwise wouldn’t be available.
A University of Queensland (UQ) study found students with a rural background who attended the UQ Rural Health Clinic for one or two years were between four and seven times more likely to practise in a rural area than those who didn’t.
Led by UQ’s Healthy Ageing Initiative, SQRH will undertake a formal evaluation and research program to document and measure outcomes and impacts of the new training hub.
Chinchilla itself also has a higher than statewide rate of First Nations people, at 6.7 per cent, so partnership with Goondir will play a critical role, facilitating co-design of training and services and providing leadership via cultural mentoring support. Their involvement in organisational activities, including recruitment and advocacy, will maximise ongoing cultural safety.
Ultimately, this integrated multidisciplinary model will demonstrate to government that this concept works and could be replicated across Australia.
Regardless of your postcode, you should be able to access support and care when you need it and in your own community – where your family may have lived for decades and sometimes generations.
University of Melbourne research was not alone in showing that self-managed home aged care can be an efficient system that provides self-determination, personalisation and a reduced reliance on primary care services.
The better care we can deliver to people throughout their lives, the less likely they are to be reliant on residential aged care and primary health services, and the better their quality of life will be.
As we establish the Age Well Community Centre, we will be tracking very carefully the outputs and efficiencies, to lay a foundation for this innovative new approach whose benefits can be shared across Australia’s health system.
This model is about protecting and improving the health of the entire community throughout their lives – in Chinchilla first, but why not every rural, regional and remote centre across the country?