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Aged care funding find

Wednesday, 8th June, 2011

Alan Carter Alan Carter

By Darrin Manuel

Far West Local Health District Chairman, Dr Steve Flecknoe-Brown, said he has made an encouraging discovery regarding the Government's allocation of funded aged care beds in the region.

The finding comes as local health and aged care officials prepare to meet with three levels of Government today for an Aged Care Beds Crisis Meeting.

Dr Flecknoe Brown will be joined at the meeting by visiting Nationals officials Melinda Pavey (Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Health), Jenny Gardiner (Deputy Leader Nationals in the Legislative Council), Federal Member for Farrer Sussan Ley, Southern Cross Care CEO Alan Carter and Mayor Wincen Cuy.

Dr Flecknoe-Brown said he hoped to show that Broken Hill could get a far better deal from the Government if it applies its aged care bed allocation formula to Broken Hill only.

Using the formula, the Government allocates 110 funded aged care beds per 1,000 population aged 70 years or over.

But once beds were calculated for the whole region, those allocated were often "snapped up" by centres with higher populations, the doctor said.

"After having a look at demographic figures, I discovered that if the formula the Government uses is applied just to Broken Hill and not the whole region, we'd have just about the right amount of beds," he said.

"If it's not applied with a broad brush, we'd have 16 more high level beds, and 12 more low level beds.

"It's great news, and we should hopefully be able to bring things up to speed fairly quickly."

Dr Flecknoe-Brown said it was extremely useful to have hard data with which to build a case rather than having to lobby for legislative change.

"We won't have to fight for reform in regard to the formula, it's just that we're lumped in with dissimilar areas," he said.

"Currently we're grouped in with places as far north as the Queensland border, and as far east as Dubbo. And of course, we're totally dissimilar.

"Now it's just a matter of showing them the differences, and getting things recalibrated to make sure it's applied right."

However extra Government-funded aged care beds would come with the responsibility of keeping them occupied, according to Southern Cross Care CEO Alan Carter.

Mr Carter described aged care as a delicate balancing act, with occupancy, staffing levels and debt all having to be carefully considered when extra beds were concerned.

"The way aged care works, we simply can't afford to have an empty bed. If there's nobody in the bed, then we get nothing from the Federal Government, not one cent.

"We're carrying $12 million of debt from the new St Anne's and Harold Williams Home, and when we do our calculations and budget we work on 98 to 100 per cent occupancy to be able to repay that debt.

"Of course people might just say 'Well if there's a bed with nobody in it, then just don't employ staff,' but here in Broken Hill it's very, very difficult to find staff, and we want to keep the staff we have to the best of our ability.

"If you just start calling them up and saying 'don't come to work today because there's spare beds' they'll simply go work somewhere else.

"And with the standard of care we're looking to provide, to cut back on staff could border on being negligent."

Mr Carter said an increase in the allocation of beds along with a proven sustained demand for the beds could possibly provide the impetus for a refurbishment of Aruma Lodge, but admitted that it was a long-term prospect.

"If the demand was there and we could get the capital we'd probably look at rebuilding Aruma Lodge and attaching the beds to that, as within 10 to 15 years that will need to be refurbished or rebuilt.

"But as I said, it would take a lot of convincing. There would need to be a lot of due diligence and research before we'd be putting our hand up."

In the short-term Mr Carter said he supported the establishment of a specialised facility on the hospital grounds to care for those awaiting aged care placement.

The facility could provide a welcome balance between acute care and aged care living standards, and funding could be sourced from other Federal Government health programs, he said.

Such programs include the Long Stay for Older Patients Initiative which provides funding to hospitals for each frail aged patient who is in their care, and the Transition Care Program which pays for personal care services for the frail aged.

The city's health and aged care professionals are expected to put their ideas forward at today's meeting in the hope of finding a suitable solution to the city's aged care situation.

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