Australia

Aged care reform should include more data on migrant workers, inquiry hears

Mary Ann Geronimo and Romy Listo from the Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia address the inquiry. Source: Senate

A Senate inquiry has heard calls for the inclusion of more data on the aged care sector's migrant workforce as part of a proposed bill on improved financial transparency from aged care providers.

The Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia has called for more detailed data collection of migrant workers as part of a proposed bill on improved financial transparency from aged care providers.

A Senate inquiry is considering a bill that would strengthen the financial reporting obligations of aged care providers to include information such as the spend on food, medication, staff budgets, staff training and administration.

Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie introduced the bill last October, arguing that amendments are needed to ensure aged care facilities publicly disclose the budget on staff wages and the breakdown of staffing categories.

Malnourishment and overmedication were issues canvassed in the Royal Commission on aged care.

Mary Ann Geronimo, director of policy on health and ageing from FECCA, said there is particular concern around the vulnerabilities of migrant aged care workers - many of whom are on temporary visas and lack access to Medicare and secure, well paid work conditions.

"To have a good sense of the outcomes in the aged care system, this data must be put in place; taking into account other guidelines the facility has to address," she told the Senate inquiry.

"We share the concern about the need to connect this altogether - a wholistic view of data collection and publication."

FECCA is proposing new data measures be included such as visa status, ethnicity, language preference, specialities such as dementia care and CALD specialisation.

As part of the budget, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Tuesday announced a $17.7 billion aged care package to "significantly improve the system" under a five-year plan.
As part of the budget, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Tuesday announced a $17.7 billion aged care package to "significantly improve the system" over five-years
AAP

"It comes back to diversity. Practising that comes with good data that should be able to capture that, and whether we have an efficient system; and whether we are fulfilling the equity requirements of the sector," said Ms Geronimo.

She said concerns had been raised about inadequate cultural and spiritual care for migrant Australians. 

"We do hear from people in our consultations that there is an ongoing challenge with language barriers, trauma backgrounds, and the negative perception of aged care facilities.

"It is very important for us to have data on the kind of care aged care facilities are providing to people from CALD backgrounds."

The number of overseas-born workers in the aged care and disability support sector grew by four per cent to 37 per cent in the five years to 2016 - outpacing the 2.6 per cent growth of migrant workers over the same period in Australia's broader workforce to represent a segment of 30.6 per cent.

One in five Australians aged 65 and over born overseas, according to the 2011 Census. 

This week's federal budget included almost $8 billion to improve residential aged care. Half of that amount is being allocated to delivering a minimum of 200 care minutes per resident each day, and reporting back to families on whether it happened.

Eliza Strapp from the federal Health Department told the inquiry that from October this year providers would be submitting - for the first time - more detailed financial reporting data covering care minutes, daily living expenses, and the spend on staff broken down by categories such as nurses, allied health, agency, lifestyle and other.  

"I think it is an ambitious aim," Ms Strapp said, adding that more stringent civil penalties and enforcement capabilities would increase the capacity for authorities to act on breaches. 

"We'll be monitoring it closely and adjusting it [reporting obligations] if needed."

Public disclosure of the information would require further legislative amendments. 

Malcolm Larsen from Aged and Community Services Australia told the inquiry the sector is concerned about over-reporting. 

"We would prefer that consideration of this bill is included in the budget measures on transparency [in the aged care sector]. 

"Our concern is that the noble desire for transparency - which we support in principle - would require multiple reports imbued in red tape that will take away from providers' ability to give care to residents." 

He said 65 per cent of the group's members are reporting at a financial loss - with the number increasing to 78 per cent for providers in regional Australia. 

The Senate committee is due to hand down its report on 24 June.

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