Louise Craig had been using her community’s home care services for about 15 years, but this year the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council (MPSC) made the decision to discontinue services, forcing older residents to wait for support.
Most important points:
- Louise Craig fears she could be forced into a nursing home without anyone helping her around the house
- Aid workers are refusing jobs at nonprofits because of low wages, union says
- Council on Aging says local governments have a responsibility to care for older residents
MPSC is one of 28 local government regions in the state that choose to discontinue home care.
Mrs Craig told ABC Radio Melbourne that it had been seven weeks since she had had help cleaning her house.
“Now I’ve had nothing, I haven’t been on duty since June 21,” said the Somers resident.
Before that, she said she had received a letter saying she could choose between aged care organizations mecwacare or Bolton Clarke to continue her home support once MPSC services ceased on June 30.
“From that moment on [I’ve heard] nothing at all,” she said.
In a letter from mecwacare, Ms Craig said the organization is training new staff and is struggling with staff shortages.
“We kindly ask you to be patient with us, we will call you to schedule the services, but this may take a while,” she quoted the letter as saying.
“When this all started, someone from the council told me to wait six months and it seems they were right.”
Difficulty getting by
Mrs. Craig, who has emphysema, said she had her house cleaned once every two weeks.
“What I’m doing now, I’m doing what I used to do before I realized I couldn’t handle it,” she said.
“In the kitchen I sweep regularly, where I make a meal or drop crumbs, I sweep it up.
“As for the rest, the carpets are not vacuumed, the floor is not mopped and the bathrooms are not cleaned.
“I can wipe the sink in the bathroom, but there’s not much I can do.”
It wasn’t just the wait that frustrated Mrs. Craig.
“The woman who did the job for 15 years basically became a friend, she was a nice person and took her job very seriously,” she said.
Ms Craig said the delays made her feel like she was one step closer to being forced into a retirement home.
No rush, says union
Lisa Darmanin, the Victorian and Tasmanian Department Secretary for the Australian Services Union, felt that councils chose to opt out of home care services following changes made by the previous federal government.
“There have been some changes over the years in the financing of the provision of home care for the elderly, partly as a result of the Royal Commission, but the previous government continued to increase funding, so there is no need for councils to change from this. services,” she said.
“The funding has been extended for another 12 months, until next year, and we’ve discussed with municipalities across the state that they don’t need to leave these services at this time, but they will continue to do so.”
Ms Darmanin said it would be a challenge to fill staff shortages with private aged care providers, as those positions were less attractive to employees than positions in local governments.
“Most workers have not crossed over” [to a private organisation] because of the lower wages,” she says.
“Different employers have different employee benefits and historically, the nonprofit and private sector have had lower wages and benefits…than services provided by the municipality.”
She said the difference was about $10 less per hour in some cases.
“Conditions are quite grim and it’s easy to see why there is quite a high turnover,” said Ms Darmanin.
Council adopts urgent motion
Mornington Peninsula Mayor Anthony Marsh said the council had chosen to make the change to give residents the best chance of attracting quality service providers ready for the government’s new open market system.
“We have not been given a say in the nomination of new providers, which has been done by the federal government,” he said.
“We have received assurances from both providers and the federal government that all essential services would continue to be provided as of the July 1 transition date.
“We offered to keep some staff to help with the transition, but that offer was turned down.”
Mr Marsh said the MPSC passed an “urgent motion” at its meeting yesterday seeking assurances from the federal government that residents’ concerns will be accounted for during the transition period.
Ian Yates, chief executive of the Council on the Aging, said home care was well provided by municipalities and non-profit and private providers.
“Many home health services are currently under pressure due to the pressure on the workforce, as in many other industries,” he said.
But Mr Yates said he felt the council should have continued to provide care until it was certain that the needs of the elderly residents would be met.
“I think there is a duty of care,” he said.
mecwacare said it had contacted all customers who switched to its service and that “customer care and support were paramount”.
In a statement, Bolton Clarke said services had begun for all referred customers who received essential support, including personal care and shopping.
“All remaining customers have been contacted and we are in regular contact to keep up to date with progress and address any immediate needs and as part of this,” it said.
“We monitor what other support customers have and those without regular family visits are prioritized for services.”