Wait for home-care packages pushing elderly into nursing homes

– Sydney Morning Herald


Two years ago Wanda Solomon, 94, was allocated a level-four home-care package, which enabled her to get the help she needed to continue living on her own.
With worsening macular degeneration but a fierce determination to remain independent, she was able to manage – with a few hours help a week – to prepare an evening meal. Her sister Irena Zuraszek, 91, generally did the cleaning and helped with the shopping.But because Wanda was not yet using the level-four package to its full extent, her chosen provider downgraded it to a level-two package. The reduced care hours worked well until earlier this year when her health took a turn for the worse and she needed more help. Wanda’s name went onto the national queue for a level-four package, for which she is still waiting.

Irena was able to carry much of the increased load until her own health started to suffer, which meant Wanda’s only real option was to go into respite care in an aged-care facility while they work out a longer term plan.

“Wanda is being well cared for but she is very confused in a new environment in which she can’t see. I am constantly worrying about her, so really I’m not sleeping. She is my only sister and – if it wasn’t for her eyes and some memory loss – we would probably be able to manage at home with some extra help,” Irena says.

Home-care packages

Most people want to remain living in their own home until the end. However, often the reality is very different.

Much depends on your health and ongoing care needs as well as the help that is available, be it from friends, family or professionals.

The federal government has two home-care programs aimed at keeping people at home rather than having to move into a residential aged-care facility. Both programs are desperately in need of review and increased funding if they are going to meet the demands of the ageing population.

About 80,000 people are accessing help through the Home Care Packages (HCP) program and an estimated one million people receive support from Commonwealth Home Support Services.

Irena Zuraszek believes the sisters could have remained at home if they’d been able to get a higher-level home-care package.

The Home Care Package Program Data Report reveals, as of December 2017, there were a further 104,602 people in a national queue for an HCP, about half of whom are receiving services at levels below what they have been assessed for.

HCPs allocate a budget, which is held for you by an approved care provider. The HCPs range from level-one packages for low care needs, such as cleaning, to level four for higher care needs, such as personal care and showering.

It is up to you to find a provider who can meet your care needs. Each HCP provides a number of care hours. HCPs can also be used to make home modifications or buy equipment such as walkers.

One of the biggest frustrations is getting a few regular care workers to visit your home.

RSL Life Care manager of HCP provider Life Care at Home, Wendy Marshall, says most people working with a package lower than what they have been assessed manage with “great difficulty”.

“They either go without or they pay for extra services themselves, and that cost can be substantial,” she says.

Eligibility for the appropriate package level is determined by government-funded health professionals known as the Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT).

One key issue for receiving appropriate care is the time it takes between being assessed for a package and being allocated one. Currently, the wait for a level-two package is about six months, and one year for level three and four.