The crisis of funding in Australia’s aged care sector is resulting in a sharp deterioration in living and working conditions.
Researchers have reported that malnutrition affects “at least one in two residents in Australian residential aged care facilities”. The findings, published in the journal Nutrition and Dietetics, include that the average amount spent on feeding an aged care resident dropped from $6.39 to $6.08 per day from 2015 to 2016.
This is far less than is spent in other similar countries such as the US, the UK and Canada, and less than one-third of that in the highest-spending country, Norway.
Funding cuts of billions of dollars have occurred since the Coalition took office in 2013. But the aged care sector, which is largely privately operated and state subsidised, is hardly running short of cash.
According to the most recent survey of aged care profits conducted by Bentleys Chartered Accountants, the average profit made from each resident in 2015 was $6,278.
The Britain-based CEO of Bupa, which runs dozens of care homes across Australia, received a cool $3 million last year, while the company posted a 2016 profit of more than $500 million.
The CEO of Regis aged care, Ross Johnston, pocketed more than $1 million, while Andrew Sudholz of Japara was paid $950,000.
And while the CEOs and investment banks that part-own many centres make millions, the workers are pushed to the brink.
The Health Services Union recently surveyed its members working in the sector, and the complaints were many. One worker described the conditions as “dreadful”.
“You’ve normally got two staff to 35 people, including those with chronic needs and palliative care”, the worker said. “You’re pushed with work, you can’t fulfil all your duties in the 7.5 hours. It’s not fair on the workers [or] the residents.”
Another worker reported: “People had to be lying in wet beds for hours on end because there weren’t enough staff to change them”.
The sector has been aggressively cutting staffing budgets for years, hiring fewer staff and replacing nurses with lower-paid carers, who get as little as $20 per hour to look after more than a dozen residents.
As a result, hospital admissions from nursing homes in Victoria increased by a staggering 25 percent from 2016 to 2017.
The picture painted is grim. But there has been pushback, and workers have won pay increases and staffing guarantees as part of industrial campaigns recently in some places where union membership is higher.