El­derly care costs need re­view

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

The qual­ity of the care avail­able to the el­derly rarely gets on to the po­lit­i­cal radar.

Yet ac­cord­ing to a 2010 es­ti­mate, there are about 42,000 peo­ple re­ceiv­ing care in more than 700 aged res­i­den­tial care fa­cil­i­ties in New Zealand, with a fur­ther 75,000 el­derly peo­ple re­ceiv­ing some level of state sup­port to en­able them to re­main in their own homes.

Those bald num­bers are due to in­crease, sharply.

The pop­u­la­tion aged over 65 will grow from 13 per cent in 2010 to a pre­dicted 19 per cent by 2026 and 25 per cent by 2051.

The num­ber of peo­ple older than 85 will also in­crease, from 58,000 in 2006 to 127,000 in 2026.

Mean­while, the wages and work­ing con­di­tions for the rest home work­ers we en­trust with the care of the el­derly have been a scan­dal for years.

Most of the work­ers in­volved are women, a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion are mi­grants, and many are re­ceiv­ing lit­tle more than the min­i­mum wage.

Last week, a re­port by Judy Mc­gre­gor of the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion is­sued a scathing in­dict­ment of the sit­u­a­tion.

‘‘ It of­fends against hu­man de­cency,’’ Dr Mc­gre­gor re­port­edly said. ‘‘ The reliance on the emo­tional um­bil­i­cal cord be­tween women work­ing as car­ers and the older peo­ple they care for at $13 to $14 an hour is a form of mod­ern­day slav­ery.

‘‘ It ex­ploits the good­will of women. It is a know­ing ex­ploita­tion. We can claim nei­ther ig­no­rance, nor am­ne­sia.’’

For many peo­ple, how the aged­care in­dus­try func­tions is some­thing of a mys­tery.

In­creas­ingly, chains of ma­jor pri­vate providers (some owned in Australia, some in Bri­tain) are dis­plac­ing or tak­ing over the for­mer not-for-profit church-run fa­cil­i­ties and the small-scale lo­cal providers.

Therein lies the puz­zle. How can the own­ers con­tinue to rack up large an­nual prof­its and yet re­ceive public money, at the same time as the work­ing con­di­tions and the ca­reer prospects for the staff on the front lines re­main so poor? The short an­swer is there is no au­dit­ing of how the public money in­volved is be­ing spent.

Note this ex­change, from par­lia­men­tary ques­tion 11435 in 2010:

Sue Ked­g­ley to the Min­is­ter of Health (Jun 17 2010): ‘‘ Is any fi­nan­cial au­dit­ing of aged care fa­cil­i­ties car­ried out, to en­sure that all gov­ern­ment fund­ing is di­rectly spent on the pro­vi­sion of care for the el­derly; if so, how, and by whom?’’

Hon Tony Ryall (Min­is­ter of Health): ‘‘The au­dit­ing of aged care fa­cil­i­ties does not ex­tend to mon­i­tor­ing how gov­ern­ment fund­ing is spent. Pri­vate providers are ex­pected to sup­ply con­tracted care ser­vices that meet the as­sessed need of all the res­i­dents and this has been the case un­der the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment.’’

In other words, there is no way of track­ing if any ad­di­tional funds would be used for the pur­pose in­tended, such as boost­ing wages, or pro­vid­ing ad­di­tional staff or bet­ter build­ing main­te­nance, rather than go­ing straight into the pock­ets of share­hold­ers.

Dr Mc­gre­gor urges a sweep­ing re­vamp of the sec­tor – com­plete with min­is­te­rial re­spon­si­bil­ity, strict tar­gets, en­hanced train­ing etc to bring stan­dards up to the lev­els found else­where in the health sec­tor.

How­ever, in the cur­rent cli­mate there seems lit­tle will at Cab­i­net level for giv­ing rest home work­ers any­thing more sub­stan­tial than a big round of ap­plause.

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