Aged care reforms ‘confusing’, agency reports

INFORMED: James and Judith Stephens travelled from Malmsbury to attend the aged care information session. The couple first learned about the system reforms after Mr Stephens experienced health issues. Picture: NONI HYETT

INFORMED: James and Judith Stephens travelled from Malmsbury to attend the aged care information session. The couple first learned about the system reforms after Mr Stephens experienced health issues. Picture: NONI HYETT

AN information session about reforms to aged care has exposed a lack of communication between the federal government and the people the services are intended to help.

For many of the attendees at a session in Castlemaine, on Wednesday, a flyer dropped in their mailbox was the first they’d learned of the system changes. 

The flyer came not from the federal government, but from Uniting AgeWell, a Uniting Church organisation that provides aged care services.

Presenters at the session provided information about the reforms, government-funded programs and eligibility criteria, navigating the system, and about Uniting AgeWell’s services. 

They also offered to help people seeking to register with My Aged Care, the government’s online portal.

Clients can use the portal to access the aged care system. There is also a phone line. 

Vikki Carter, Lynne Jolly and Kaylene deWacht of Uniting AgeWell, which presented an aged care information session in Castlemaine. Picture: NONI HYETT

Vikki Carter, Lynne Jolly and Kaylene deWacht of Uniting AgeWell, which presented an aged care information session in Castlemaine. Picture: NONI HYETT

“I didn’t know it even existed,” Pam France said. 

The 73-year-old Castlemaine resident has no need for aged care assistance - yet. 

But she’s mindful of how quickly things could change. 

“Eventually I’m going to need something, but I don’t know where to get it,” she said. 

Attendees at Wednesday’s session were advised to start thinking about their needs for aged care services, such as care at home, and start developing a plan. 

“We don’t want you to get to crisis stage and then start thinking about it,” one of the presenters said. 

She encouraged attendees who believed they were in need of some assistance to register with My Aged Care as soon as possible, because it could take some time for their package requests to be processed. 

Their requests would be considered alongside those from throughout the nation, and prioritised according to the level of assistance required and the complexity of the client’s needs, attendees were told. 

Presenters encouraged the attendees to keep My Aged Care updated about the urgency of their needs, once they had applied for a package.

“Be honest,” they advised.

The presenters were of the belief few Victorians had been assigned a package as yet, though they said such information was not readily available to organisations. 

Mrs France said the session had provided her with valuable information.

“Now I’ve got a contact if I need help,” she said. 

But she called on the federal government to address the backlog in package allocations. 

“The system they have set up is really good, but it’s just not working yet,” Mrs France said. 

James and Judith Stephens have been married for more than 50 years. Picture: NONI HYETT

James and Judith Stephens have been married for more than 50 years. Picture: NONI HYETT

Judith Stephens first learnt of the aged care system reforms after her husband James had a hemorrhage and went completely blind, about a year ago. 

He was sitting on the bed, reaching for his slippers, when a blood vessel just behind his right eye ruptured.

“My life did change in an instant – literally, in the blink of an eye,” Mrs Stephens said. 

Her partner and best friend of more than 50 years was suddenly helpless. 

“It was very frightening, very stressful,” she said. 

In the midst of all that stress, she was trying to navigate a changing system. 

If there's one thing we've learned it's how quickly things can change. - Judith Stephens, on the need for home care

Mrs Stephens said she received referrals to many different agencies. Uniting AgeWell was among them. 

In the year since the couple learnt of the reforms, Mr Stephens has undergone several surgeries and regained some of his eyesight. 

The couple receives some home care from the shire, but drove from their Malmsbury home to Castlemaine to learn more about the options available to them in future.

“We don’t use the computer,” Mrs Stephens said.

They, too, said they had found the session valuable and would likely act on the information provided.

“I think it’s made it all a lot clearer,” Mrs Stephens said.

Lack of clarity was one of the motivating factors for Uniting AgeWell to stage the information sessions, program coordinator Kerry Egan said.

“Around 4000 people enter the aged care system every day in Australia, and yet the feedback we receive from the community is that people find the system confusing and difficult to navigate,” she said.

Sessions have been held in Echuca, Bendigo, Maryborough and Castlemaine – each of which is home to a higher proportion of residents aged 65 and over than the national average. 

More than 18 per cent of Bendigo residents, 22 per cent of Castlemaine residents, 20 per cent of Echuca residents, and 28 per cent of Maryborough residents fit within that age group.

The national average in 2016 was 15.3 per cent.

Uniting AgeWell has further sessions planned, including one at the Inglewood Town Hall from 10am on May 24. 

The federal Department of Health undertook ‘significant activities’ to communicate the reforms to older Australians and their family members and carers, a spokeswoman said.

More than 200,000 letters were sent to people with an approval for home care to explain how the changes might affect them. 

The department has released more than 22,000 home care packages since the program reforms came into effect on February 27.

“Further packages are being released on a regular basis,” the spokeswoman said. 

She said the department was unable to report on the number of people who had registered for packages since the change, or the expected wait times for care, while the system was in a transition period.

The department expects to start providing quarterly reports from July.

More than 3.5 million people in Australia are expected to receive aged care services by 2050.

Reforms to the Home Care Package mean consumers will be able to exercise greater control over what their packages comprise of and who delivers the care.

According to the spokeswoman, the package assignment process is based on how long the consumer has been waiting for care and their individual needs and circumstances, as determined by an assessment by an Aged Care Assessment Team. 

Further information about the reforms is available from My Aged Care by calling 1800 200 422.

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