Advocates cautiously welcome push to transition younger people with a disability out of aged care

Tuesday's federal budget will see $10 million in new funding to reduce the number of younger people living in aged care and transition them to age-appropriate accommodation.

Helen Burt says she was forced to enter a nursing home at just 55 years of age because of a lack of appropriate care options.

Helen Burt says she was forced to enter a nursing home at just 55 years of age because of a lack of appropriate care options. Source: Supplied

Disability advocate groups have cautiously welcomed a new federal government push to reduce the number of younger people living in aged care, but political opponents say the plan doesn't go far enough. 

Tuesday’s federal budget will see $10 million in funding set aside to transition younger people living in aged care to age-appropriate accommodation.

The funding will go towards a national network of up to 40 system coordinators to help younger people find age-appopriate accommodation and "support them to allow them to live independently in the community," Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme Stuart Robert said in September. 

NDIS Minister Stuart Robert at a press conference at Parliament House
Source: AAP

The strategy aims to support almost 5,000 people under the age of 65 who are living in aged care, with advocates concerned people with disability continue to fall between the cracks of the system.

At 55 years old, Helen Burt faced the confronting challenge of being forced to enter a residential aged care facility in Melbourne. 

Helen Burt.
Source: Supplied

Ms Burt has multiple sclerosis, and says the decision was made due to mobility issues, as a result of her condition. She says the move made her feel socially isolated and mentally distressed.

“I railed against it and was so upset – but that’s where I ended up,” Ms Burt told SBS News.

“Each day you spend in a nursing home, you become psychologically and physically more unwell.”

Ms Burt spent seven years in the nursing home. Three weeks ago, she moved into a specialised apartment with a carer who could assist with her personal needs. 

“It's even better than I thought it would be – it is changes everything, it is just wonderful,” she said.

As part of its Younger People in Residential Care Strategy (YPIRAC), released in March last year, the government wants to see no people under the age of 65 entering, or no one under 45 living in residential aged care by 2022. 

It also wants to see no one under the age of 65 living in residential aged care by 2025.

Mr Robert said there has been a 21 per cent decrease in younger people living in aged care since December 2017, but conceded "there is more to do". 

Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Richard Colbeck, said the national network of system coordinators will help more people transition into appropriate care options.

Minister for Aged Care Richard Colbeck in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra on 24 August.
Source: AAP

“People who want to live on their own terms and with independence in the community will be supported to navigate Commonwealth and state and territory systems,” Mr Colbeck said.

Young People in Nursing Homes chief executive Bronwyn Morkham welcomed the push, warning younger Australians continue to be placed in aged care facilities due to a lack of suitable accommodation options.

“It is extremely difficult for a younger person who is generations younger than most older people in a nursing home," she told SBS News.

"We need to get going – there is an urgency about this. We need everybody to put their shoulders to the wheel and work to make this a possibility.”

Political opponents have raised concerns the government is slow to address the issue, warning its budget response may not go far enough.

“Getting out of residential aged care and into an age appropriate setting transforms people’s lives," Green Senator Jordon Steele-John told SBS News.

“(But) $10 million that has no timeline attached to it, nor clarity as to where the 40 people who it hires will actually work does not cut it."

Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John.
Source: AAP

Labor’s NDIS spokesperson Bill Shorten also said the government had “neglected” the issue for too long.

“This is too little, too late with not much more than a year for the 2022 target to be met,” he said.

“Australians with disability deserve so much better."

The government says the Department of Health will undertake a competitive process to select an organisation to employ, train and deploy the new system coordinators.

It is anticipated that there will be a gradual roll out of these positions. 

Di Winkler, CEO of peak disability organisation the Summer Foundation, said improving communication would help to improve the system. 

"Most young people are admitted to aged care because they fall into the gap between hospitals and disability service system," she told SBS News.

“We know that aged care facilities are just not set up with resources to support young people with a disability to live a life."

According to government data, there has been a 39 per cent reduction in younger people entering residential aged care, from 407 to 247 people, since the launch of its YPIRAC plan. 

In that time, there has been a 22 per cent drop in people under the age of 45 living in residential aged care, and a 15 per cent drop in those under the age of 65. 

Neale Radley says helping people transition out of an aged care facility can't change someone's life.
Source: Supplied

Neale Radley was 48 when a diving accident left him a quadriplegic.

He said it's urgent more help is provided to assist people in their transition into age-appropriate care.

After spending almost five years in an aged care facility, he moved into a unit with specialised care in his Victorian country town of Bendigo four months ago. 

“It’s massive as far as the quality of life,” Mr Radley told SBS News.

“You can feel like more of a normal person – [you] have the freedom and the care.”

The YPIRAC strategy was updated late last year following recommendations from the aged care royal commission, which described its targets as unambitious.

Published 5 October 2020 at 8:44pm, updated 5 October 2020 at 8:52pm
By Tom Stayner