By Tess Macallan, Journalist, Council Magazine

As the number of Australians aged 65 and over is projected to double over the next 40 years, communities will likely experience growing demand for in-home aged care services. However, with the Federal Government’s plans to reform in-home aged care funding, many Australian councils are putting such programs on the chopping block. Mount Alexander Shire Council is among the exceptions, having voted last year to maintain its commitment to provide services to over 800 of its residents.

With Australia’s life expectancy continuing to increase and fertility rates continuing to decline, the country faces an ageing population. Over the next 40 years, the number of Australians aged 85 and over will more than triple, and the number of centenarians is expected to increase six-fold.

This demographic shift will have a profound impact on the aged care sector, which is already grappling with financial challenges and workforce shortages. The industry is undergoing significant reform following the 2021 Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

Under the Federal Government’s current model, many councils receive funding to deliver the Home Support Program (CHSP). The CHSP provides entry level services focused on supporting older people to maintain residence within their homes and connection with the community. Services are provided on a short-term or ongoing basis and include allied health and therapy services, personal care, domestic assistance, social support and home modifications.

However, from 1 July 2027, a new program called the In Home Support Program will replace CHSP services and absorb a range of other aged care programs. This will significantly change the funding and delivery of current aged care services delivered by many local governments, leading to a growing number of councils deciding to withdraw from being an aged care services provider.

A legacy of care

Mount Alexander Shire Council has been delivering aged care services under the Home and Community Care program since 1984.

Today, Council has approximately 50 staff members who deliver aged care services to roughly 900 residents in the shire. These services include personal care, home care, shopping, delivered meals, respite care, social support programs and more.

Mount Alexander Shire Council Mayor, Matthew Driscoll, said, “Over the course of the last forty years, the feedback on those services from clients has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Council’s aged care services help people recover from an illness or injury, provide companionship, and support residents to maintain their independence while living at home.

“Council also boasts a committed pool of staff, which is a key factor in contributing to make it an excellent service, and one that people can, and do rely on.”

Alongside federal support, Council receives funding from a range of sources including the Victorian Government, Home Care Package Providers and Veterans Home Care and Home and Community Care-Program for Younger People.

Mayor Driscoll said Council conducted an extensive review of its program in response to the Federal Government’s recent reforms. This led to the decision to not only continue to provide its services but also to expand Council’s offerings.

“The review began in January 2023, and involved hearing from current clients and their families, consultation with staff and volunteers, benchmarking with other local government areas, financial analysis, risk analysis, and more,” Mayor Driscoll said.

During the review process, Council gathered feedback from more than 350 of its current clients, finding:

  • 76 per cent of respondents reported that the service they are currently receiving from Council fully met their needs
  • 86 per cent of respondents stated their willingness to stay with Council for care services
  • The familiarity and professionalism of care staff was consistently raised as a key value proposition of the service

“While it is an incredibly complex matter, the high standard at which our services are delivered, and the consequent respect and appreciation held by more than 800 clients for those services, has been enormously important in the decision-making process.”

Community response

Mayor Driscoll said Mount Alexander Shire’s residents have welcomed the decision to continue providing aged care services.

“Throughout the review of our aged care services, we kept our community and clients informed. Despite this though, there was some nervousness as to what the future would hold.

“The morning after the Council meeting, staff began the process of informing current clients and their families of the decision which was received with joy, and much relief. 

“During our review, current clients and their families overwhelmingly told us how much they value the aged care services that we offer. 

“Older residents told us they feel cared for and respected by our staff – and that’s incredibly important to us.”

Mayor Driscoll said all the staff take great pride in their role and thrive in the knowledge that they are giving back to the community.

“The staff go above and beyond when caring for the clients which was highlighted within the feedback. 

“Compliments for the staff and their work continue to be received.”

Tackling the challenges ahead

Mayor Driscoll said one of the biggest challenges facing Council is the nationwide workforce shortage. Job vacancies in healthcare and social services remain very high compared to other industries, underscoring the need for workers.

However, Council is taking action to ensure the workforce continues to grow to meet demand.

“The Council service is offering traineeships for people interested in undertaking a Certificate 3 in Individual Support, enabling people new to the sector to gain a new skill set to provide a good quality service. This is proving effective in securing staff.”

Moreover, the aged care sector was hard hit by COVID-19, and Mayor Driscoll said the lingering presence of the virus means it remains a concern.

“Infection Control guidelines are in place to reduce the transmission. However, staff like the rest of the community are susceptible which places pressure on delivering services.”

Optimistic outlook

While there are many difficulties facing aged care providers, Mayor Driscoll said the increasing demand for services offers an opportunity for councils to become local leaders in the sector.

Mount Alexander Shire Council is in the process of registering to become a Home Care Package Provider to ensure complex clients have local case managers/partners.

“This will ensure we can respond to clients with higher needs in a timely manner. In recent months Council is now supporting the Department of Veteran’s Affairs in Central Goldfields.

“The aged care system is incredibly complex for older adults to navigate so having a local presence will continue to facilitate support for older adults to gain access to the services.”

Federal-funded aged care services delivered by Council will now transition to the new In Home Support Program model.

“For current clients, the service is not going to look any different in the short-term,” Mayor Driscoll said.

“Down the track, Council will explore delivering extra services as well, and any expansion will be done in a sustainable way and in line with client demand. 

“Council is confident and excited about the opportunities that await us, under our plan for aged care services in the shire.”

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