Australian aged-care sector pleads for extra $1.5bn coronavirus rescue package

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Providers say they were facing ‘prolonged financial pressures’ long before pandemic

Aged care providers are pleading for a further $1.5bn rescue package from the government, with the sector close to “breaking point” as facilities struggle to fund the ballooning cost of complying with Covid-19 safety measures.

In an open letter advertisement in Thursday’s Nine newspapers, providers Anglicare, Baptist Care, UnitingCare and Leading Age Services Australia have warned the sector was already facing “prolonged financial pressures, long before the pandemic”.

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World news | The Guardian

Aged care providers are pleading for a further $1.5bn rescue package from the government, with the sector close to “breaking point” as facilities struggle to fund the ballooning cost of complying with Covid-19 safety measures.

In an open letter advertisement in Thursday’s Nine newspapers, providers Anglicare, Baptist Care, UnitingCare and Leading Age Services Australia have warned the sector was already facing “prolonged financial pressures, long before the pandemic”.

It calls for a nationally uniform approach to aged care visitation, but says additional government funding is needed to ensure visitation and “emotional supports” from friends and family of residents can be maintained.

Despite falling infection rates nationwide prompting an easing of social restrictions, aged care facilities are emerging as centres of Covid-19 in Australia.

On Thursday morning the Victorian chief health officer, Brett Sutton, said authorities were now focused on a cluster that had emerged from an aged care facility in Melbourne.

In New South Wales, Newmarch House in western Sydney recorded its 12th Covid-19-related resident death on Wednesday.

The outbreak at the facility was triggered after a nurse with mild symptoms worked several shifts at the home earlier in April, with 34 residents and 22 staff now Covid-19 positive.

Thursday’s open letter acknowledges government support packages to date – which have included $444m and $101m packages – but estimates this amounts to an extra $2 per aged-care resident per day.

“This is not enough to cover the costs of keeping people safe, including masks, protective equipment, cleaning and sanitation, paying casual staff who have to isolate and also being able to pay the backfilling staff, technology to maintain family connections, social distancing measures and processes to make visits to residents safe,” the letter said.

Guardian Australia understands the sector believes it will need between $1.3bn and $1.5bn over the next six months to fund Covid-19 operations, including increased staff and safe visitations.

Responding to the sector’s plea, aged care minister Richard Colbeck said the government was already in discussions to implement a “national code of conduct for aged care visitations”, but defended current Covid-19 funding measures.

“Aged care sector funding is at record levels in Australia and to date the government has already provided over half a billion dollars in additional assistance to the aged care sector for Covid-19 related matters,” Colbeck said.

Patricia Sparrow, CEO of Aged and Community Services Australia – the peak body representing church, charitable and community-based providers of aged care – told Guardian Australia “providers were already bending over backwards” to maintain operations before it was forced to adhere to Covid-19 precautions.

She said 56% of Australian aged care operators were running at a loss before the pandemic. The figure is 71% for providers in rural Australia.

“The government has put additional resources in place which really focus on when there’s an outbreak ... surge workforce and the national stockpile of equipment comes into play, which is fantastic. [But] what we’re talking about now is the things we need to prevent an outbreak.”

She said she was hopeful for a national code that enabled window visitation and a greater reliance on technology to keep families and friends of residents “connected”, but said not all operators could afford the extra staff and equipment costs to fund this.

“We don’t like keeping people apart, but we’ve got to do visitation in a way that keeps people well.

“We would hope that the government considers what it wants to do,” Sparrow said.


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