LESS than two months after seeing its in-home care responsibilities for more than 3500 people taken over by two private companies, Mornington Peninsula Shire Council wants the federal government to “give assurances” that the new system is working.
The move to outsource the services was made by the previous Liberal National Party government, but the changeover was made six weeks after the election of the Labor federal government.
Since the shire handed over its responsibilities, the two companies signed up for the peninsula have admitted staff shortages have left some clients without help.
Last week councillors voted to seek “assurances” from the federal government that “residents transitioned to the new providers are not left without vital services and associated care during the changeover period and into the future”.
The move followed widespread complaints about promised in-home care being delayed or not eventuating.
Public health researcher Dr Sarah Russell believes there could be grounds for a class action against the shire because “it should have continued to provide care until it was assured older residents’ needs were met. Instead, some older people have been left without services for six weeks”.
“In the interests of transparency and accountability, the council staff’s recent report on aged care services must be made public,” Russell said.
When unanimously adopting the move to seek assurances from the federal government at their meeting on Tuesday 9 August, councillors effusively praised shire staff for their work leading up to the transition.
Cr Steve Holland was “really disappointed” by the public response to the changeover. “A lot of it is drummed up by activists that clearly have an axe to grind. Why they direct their anger towards the shire, I really don’t know.”
Holland said the shire had “done as best we could” to manage the transfer “which was always going to happen”.
The council now needed to ensure residents received “the level of care that meets community expectations”.
“It’s about ensuring there is a review into why the federal government has utterly bungled this transfer,” Holland said. He said the new providers had been chosen by the federal government “we didn’t get a say in that”.
“We sought and were given assurances by the providers and government that all essential services would continue to be delivered by 1 July. Obviously, that hasn’t happened for a myriad of reasons; probably because the federal government and bureaucracy at federal level was not prepared to handle the transition.”
Holland said an offer by council to retain some staff “was rejected”.
About 100 shire employees were made redundant as as a result of the change.
“I don’t know why, but it was probably for political purposes, which is, again, incredibly disappointing.”
In a letter seen by The News an assistant secretary in the office of federal Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler stated the shire had decided some aged care services “no longer fit within their core business” and elected to “partially relinquish their [Commonwealth Home Support Program] funding”.
“This was not a decision made by the Australian government, or the department, but rather was an internal decision made by the council,” the assistant secretary stated. The letter acknowledged there had been “some disruption to services … [and that some were] also not yet being delivered at full capacity”.
Cr Kerri McCafferty “echoed” Holland’s sentiments and criticised the media and “activists in the community” for causing stress and concern to “vulnerable people”.
Many workers no longer wanted to work in home care because the sector was understaffed, “they have had enough”.
McCafferty said the media and “people agitating, to no end really, should have a good look at yourselves and stop using click bait for attention because this is causing stress for people in their homes … it’s totally unnecessary and unethical, in my view”.
Cr Sarah Race recounted receiving a phone call from a woman in Cairns, Queensland, concerned that her 94-year-old mother had not received home care support from the shire or the new providers.
“That was the first time I’d heard [about] any bump in the road, and it did concern me,” Race said.
It was quite distressing for me that a 94-year-old grandmother was home alone, and I want to assure our elderly people on the peninsula that we do care about them.”
Cr David Gill repeated a statement made by the mayor Cr Anthony Marsh that the new providers on in-home care had been appointed by the federal government and offers of council staff rejected (“Shire ‘committed’ to aged care” The News 9/8/22).
“The issue here is one of community concern. The media pick up on that. We’re part of that issue because we are involved and made decisions. So, when attention is turned on us and the blow torch warms up a bit, we need to be able to explain the reasons and point out what the alternatives were.
“I believe we’re doing all we can and did all we could and that’s why we should be able to hold our heads up … [although] that doesn’t mean everyone will agree.”
Gill said council should “put a notice out there that we also are not happy. There were problems with the process”.
Gill predicted the federal government would come back “and be in the same position we are today. They will be defending their position and will be, hopefully, answering this as upfront and honestly as we are.”