‘At my age, change is not good’: Elderly residents battle privatisation plan

Talking points

  • 23 councils across Victoria have said they will  exit from aged care services as they struggle to provide an increased number of services.
  • The councils say federal and state governments have transferred increased financial responsibilities to local governments without the necessary extra funding.
  • Boroondara’s aged care change is dependent upon a hearing listed before the Fair Work Commission on Thursday.

Hundreds of elderly people will be forced to switch carers and more than 60 workers will be made redundant under a Boroondara City Council plan to privatise in-home aged care services.

The council last week approved an “in-principle” resolution to shift its domestic assistance, personal care, respite care, meal preparation and property maintenance to not-for-profit aged care provider mecwacare.

Audrey Husband uses Boroondara’s aged care services and is worried about a switch to a private company. Credit:Photo: Wayne Taylor

Boroondara is one of 23 councils across Victoria to have announced their exit from aged care services as a growing number struggle to provide an increased number of services.

The councils say federal and state governments have transferred increased financial responsibilities to local governments without the necessary extra funding.

More than 2100 residents and 62 staff will be affected by Boroondara’s aged care change, which is dependent upon a hearing between the council and the Australian Municipal Administrative Clerical and Services Union listed before the Fair Work Commission on Thursday.

A spokesman for the council said 98 per cent of the elderly people who used the services had agreed to move to mecwacare but 94-year-old Boroondara resident Audrey Husband said she and many others opposed the change.

“At my age, change is not good,” she said. “You like to stick to things you know and you’ve got used to.”

Husband has used the support services for many years for help with her cleaning, shopping and jobs such as changing lightbulbs and washing windows.

“The service is a bit more than just somebody coming in and doing the cleaning,” she said. “It’s the caring part of things. They’ll sit down and talk to you and have cup of tea after they’ve finished. They are more like friends and I couldn’t manage without them.”

One aged care worker who wanted to remain anonymous said she and other staff had always been told their training was up to date but were now being told they didn’t have the level of skills needed in the future.

A spokesman for aged care services minister Richard Colbeck said the federal government was working closely with the Boroondara Council during its transition of some of its home care services. Credit:Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

“I don’t understand it,” she said. “A lot of clients we are told are happy with the change, but no one’s actually been in to speak to any of the clients; they’ve just rung them and a lot of them are really confused.”

The aged care worker said some of her clients felt like they were being bullied into transitioning while others did not understand what was happening.

“A lot of them are really heartbroken,” she said. “Most of us have been long-term carers for the same clients and it took them a long time to trust us and they don’t want to trust someone else to come.

“It’s not just about our jobs, it’s about the elderly. They need their choices and their voices to be heard as well.”

Boroondara had a contract with the federal government to provide entry-level in-home aged care services but from 1 July next year, the government is introducing a Support at Home program, which requires providers to offer specialist services such as occupational therapy and physiotherapy.

“Council does not have the capacity and has neither the expertise nor skill base to deliver services under the new Support at Home program,” a council spokesman said.

Australian Services Union secretary Lisa Darmanin said aged care staff at Boroondara were not genuinely consulted on the change and the process was disrespectful of staff, who first heard about the council’s privatisation agenda from their elderly clients.

“Councils like Kingston, Darebin and Colac-Otway have all recognised the strong community support for council-provided aged care services,” she said. “There are big community benefits when councils increase the range of aged care services they provide and Boroondara should follow suit by investigating becoming a provider of home care packages.”

A spokesman for aged care services minister Richard Colbeck said the federal government was working closely with the Boroondara Council during the transition of some of its home-care services.

“The Department of Health undertakes a rigorous process to select replacement providers to take on the services and clients that an outgoing provider is withdrawing from, ensuring clients continue to receive the highest level of care,” he said.

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