Re-balanced aged care will help in rural areas

26 April 2012

Rural residents will welcome the Federal Government’s Living Longer, Living Better plan for aged care, with its emphasis on greater choice and equity. In rural and remote areas, the challenge remains how to achieve these things close to where people live, ensuring culturally appropriate aged care and supporting the key parts of rural communities that enable healthy ageing and care.

The plan released last week will move the aged care system in the right direction, assuming that sufficient resources are devoted to it in the coming years and that it focuses first on the groups in greatest need.

The reorientation of the system promises more transparent funding for residential aged care, a focus on the early diagnosis of dementia, and better home support to help keep people healthy. It is designed to give greater capacity for people to choose to stay in their own homes for as long as possible as they age.

The challenges in rural and remote areas are enormous, both for healthy ageing at home and for residential aged care. Rural aged care services have to cater for people with limited personal means, poorer health, little access to transport, and greater difficulties in accessing specialised services. And it costs more to run an aged care facility in rural areas, with providers often having a larger number of residents in ‘low level of need’ categories. The re-balancing of resources for low and high care should benefit rural areas.

Given demographic realities of rural areas, it will be important for relevant agencies to work with the Government on its plans for dementia care, which is a growing priority there as elsewhere.

With poorer health status and lower life expectancy, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people tend to require aged care services at a younger age. This needs to be provided for through all aspects of implementation of the Plan. Additional places in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care program will be of assistance.

The Alliance is keen to check on some of the fine print in the new plans, including as it relates to annual and lifetime caps on care costs, and the focus through the new Workforce Compact on workforce pressures in rural and remote areas. The combining of existing aged care capital grants programs into the Rural, Regional and Other Special Needs Building Fund, and the accommodation supplement, are also matters of particular rural interest.

Finally, plans for healthy ageing and aged care in rural areas need to include Multi-Purpose Services, which will be subject to revised funding arrangements from 1 July next year. The recent AHHA/NRHA Policy Think Tank noted the benefits of flexible funding for the 120 or so MPSs in smaller country towns and the flexible services they are therefore able to provide for the local community.

The Alliance looks forward to contributing to further consideration of these issues.

Media Enquiries: 

Lesley Barclay - Chair: 0412 282 801