Settlement Guide

Settlement Guide: Aged care choices in Australia explained

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Australians are getting older and the need for good quality aged care is a growing concern. Many don’t know about the services and how they can access them.

Australia’s aged care sector is under pressure to meet the growing demand.

The latest Intergenerational Report says that aging population is expected to reach nearly 40 million by 2055 with nearly a quarter of that over the age of 65.

Aged Care services have changed significantly over the last 15 years.

One major change is the setup of My Aged Care, a call centre and website service launched by the government in July 2015 where elderly people can request aged care services tailored to their needs. Ethnic Communities’ Council of NSW Multicultural Ageing and Disability Access Program Officer Terrie Leoleos explains.

“So if you are over 65, you are aging and you need support at home, that would be the first tick that you would need. If you have a Medicare card that’s a good indicator that you are probably eligible to be able to apply, but the best thing to do, call the My Aged Care call center, tell them a little bit about what your needs are and they’ll be able to support you and help you along the way to decide whether or not you are eligible for these services. Many people think that they are not and they call and they are very surprise to find out the services they can access here in Australia.”   

My Aged Care services range from basic chores like mowing the loan, doing the shopping or cleaning, to complex needs, such as alternative support for accommodation.

Payment options vary and tailored to individual’s needs. Terrie Leoleos says there is also support for people who are in financial hardship.

“They are options of paying up front, there are payment options we can pay every month or with every service visit, but they also have hardship options, so if you are find it hard to pay, if you are financially in a position which is difficult, many of us share that space at the moment, it’s always important to let the service know that you are finding challenges and that you need alternative ways to make your payment. No one here in Australia who needs Aged Care but financially can’t afford it, is ever left of the support; they don’t fall through the cracks, so it’s important that you let people know, so they can accommodate you.”

The Federation of Ethnic Communities Council of Australia’s (FECCA) “2020 Vision for Older CALD Australians” report says migrant communities are aging at a much faster rate than the population at large.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics says in a few years, 30 per cent of the population aged 65 years and above will be from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

FECCA’s healthy ageing chair Mary Patetsos says they’re advocating for the needs of migrant communities.

“What we are essentially saying is that CALD Australians need to understand what services are available to them and that they can communicate their needs in their own language, and they also need to be able to talk to people so they can understand what services are available so that they can make informed choices.”

My Aged Care system includes information in many languages.

However, advocates and professionals from the sector believe accessing information and services is often too complex. Community consultant and former Aged Care worker Rafaela Lopez says computer literacy is a challenge.

“People who are over 70 and they did not have access to a technological education so they are not computer savvy, they still are going to have a lot of issues on using the service.”

Support is available to access the system.

“It is important however, that whenever you are concerned as someone who speaks a second language, contact your local Migrant Resource Centre, contact your local Ethnic Communities’ Council, or your multicultural worker or a worker who speaks your language. Let them know through your social support groups ‘I have this need and I don’t know where to go’, and they’ll be able to show you how to access My Aged Care and how to get the best support possible.”

Resti Sanz is an 81 year old woman originally from Spain who lives on her own in Melbourne. She recently underwent a knee operation and organised her aged care services before going to hospital. She doesn’t use computers, so she contacted her local council via phone, but it wasn’t easy.

“I had to make a lot of phone calls. The phone number they gave me ended up being in Queensland, from Queensland I think they took me to Canberra, well, it took me a lot of phone calls until finally they came.”

After the operation, Resti can now use new facilities at home that help her accessing the shower and toilet, for which she paid a low fee. She now finds it easier to navigate the system and enjoys a package from which a person comes once every two weeks to do cleaning at her place for $15 per month. A few days ago she asked for someone to take her going shopping as her daughters are not always available to help her. She received the visit of an assessor and even though English is not her first language she didn’t have difficulties explaining to them what her needs were.   

“In that interview they asked me whether I could drive, and I said yes, but at the moment because I’m like this I need someone who could take me shopping. They asked me, for how long? And I said, at least for 6 or 8 weeks, and then I’ll be able to drive back again. So now she took everything in writing and I’m waiting for them to tell me yes or not.”

There are certain cultural barriers which can prevent some people from using Aged Care services.

Rafaela Lopez says in some communities the children are expected to care for their elderly parents.

“It’s very easy to cross the road, and go and assist your father, but here we have this thing called “the tyranny of distance” and sometimes children buy a property quite far away from the City, so it becomes really a very difficult situation for children to help their parents when they need practical support.”

Rafaela Lopez insists that people have the right to use these services.

“They have paid for it, they have contributed to the economy of the country and it is their right, they should use these services, which are there to make life in the community easier and so they can stay at home longer.”

Like most new programs, My Aged Care doesn’t always run smoothly. Terrie Leoleos from ECCNSW encourages people to voice their concerns and provide feedback.   

“It’s so important. We are told as CALD as multicultural individuals: don’t complain it’s not the polite thing to do, in our community we should be grateful for what we have even if it’s not perfect. But the Australian Government and the Commonwealth are saying, no, we want to hear from you, because every time we tell them that something goes wrong, it’s their job and their responsibility to fix it.”

In January 2017 the Federal Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, Ken Wyatt announced more than $8.5 million in additional funding for the Multi-Purpose Services (MPS) Program for Aged Care in regional, rural and remote communities, stating that aged care services must be available to communities across the nation and all its diversity.

For more information visit the My Aged Care program or call 1800 200 422.

For step-by-step information about how to access Aged Care support, visit the NSW Ethnic Communities' Council.