MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire Council says the federal government refused to let it continue servicing home care clients after the changeover to private providers on 1 July, leaving thousands of clients in limbo.
But aged care experts say the council should not have ditched its in-house home care service in the first place, with many clients now losing certainty of service.
About 4000 home care clients on the peninsula have been caught in the middle of the former Morrison government’s decision to move home care servicing to private providers (“Home care crisis after switch to private providers” The News 5/7/22).
The changeover was not mandatory, and some councils have chosen to remain as home care providers.
Critics of the shire’s decision say delays in transferring client information to providers Mecwacare and Bolton Clarke have seen clients missing vital support, with some still not knowing when help will come.
Community services manager Jo Bradshaw said council’s offer to retain some staff to help with the transition “was declined by the Commonwealth government”.
Bradshaw said the federal government gave the council eight weeks’ notice about the new providers.
“We then wrote to 4000 clients to notify them of the new providers, ask them to name their preferred provider and get their consent to transfer their information to the new provider,” she said. “We did experience a delay with some clients not responding to our two written requests for consent. These clients have now all been contacted by phone to gain their consent and provider preference.”
Bradshaw said all information had been transferred to the new providers.
Public health qualitative researcher Dr Sarah Russell was “surprised” council had moved to private providers instead of continuing to provide home care services itself.
“I am very disappointed [and] have contacted the mayor [Cr Anthony Marsh] to ask him [about] the process council used to choose Mecwacare and Bolton Clarke as the private providers,” she said. “Over the past few years, I have received several complaints about Mecwacare and Bolton Clarke; the most common is the number of different support workers being sent to older people’s homes. Older people feel very uncomfortable receiving personal care from a stranger.
“Unlike the council staff, who are well trained and fairly remunerated, private companies often employ support workers with minimal training and low wages.
“The timing of the transition could not have been worse. Due to the pandemic, many private providers are struggling to find staff. Was this given any consideration before the transfer? What processes were implemented to ensure a smooth handover?”
Russell, director of online site Aged Care Matters, said council aged care workers were “valued and often loved by their clients”, and she would have advised the council to keep running its home care service.
Russell unsuccessfully stood as the endorsed Voices of Mornington Peninsula Independent Candidate for Flinders in the May federal election and has spent years advising councils on how to retain their home care services.
Dr Floyd Gomes said problems in the home care arena had “been festering” for a long time.
“The things I hear most from elderly patients is the words ‘fed up’,” he said.
“They are fed up with aged care management that won’t talk to them, they are fed up with lack of consistency in staffing, and they are fed up with people not turning up.
“These decisions made around aged care and home care have ultimately not been in the best interests of the people receiving the care.”
Gomes said research showed 92 per cent of elderly people wanted to stay in their homes, “but hardly anyone gets to do that”.
“The home care model in its present form is bad … staff are stretched and the elderly are missing out,” he said.
“As a society it is time to look at how better to help people live out their lives at home with the support they need.”
On the eve of the changeover to private providers two weeks ago, Bolton Clarke’s “at home support” spokesperson Sharon Kehoe said it was still receiving information from the council, but, once the information was available, would work quickly to contact people to schedule services and understand individual needs.
Mecwacare and the federal government have not responded to requests for comment.