Private Members' Statements - Regional Aged-Care Services
Australia is a great country and we have much to be proud of. New South Wales is the most populated and best‑resourced State. What we cannot be proud of is what we are doing to aging people in Regional New South Wales. They have made a massive contribution to our communities, paid taxes and volunteered and some have even served with our military. When they can no longer live at home, they often have to leave their town, their social network and often their spouse. Part of that relates to the availability of health services, but there is a more fundamental problem with the availability of aged‑care services in regional communities.
People deserve to be able to age within their own community. Couples who have lived together and loved each other for decades should not be separated into different communities when one of them needs to enter care. That introduces new risks when a partner is in one community and travelling long distances to see their loved one in another community. That is if their licence is not restricted. For older people with a restricted licence, it leaves very few options to access their loved one when they want to see them. Adult children and grandchildren are unable to access their well‑aged relative unless they go for a long drive. Not providing options to the aged within your community creates complex problems, additional costs and heartache for friends and family. One aged-care nurse wrote to me:
I have worked as a nurse in Aged Care for 13 years; I have seen loneliness, despair, disconnection in those that I look after. It is very sad to see elderly sitting everyday wondering if family and friends will visit. Physical and verbal contact is vital for our elderly people to have, if they don't have this they begin to withdraw and become recluse. Our people need to have options to be able to keep our elderly here.
Currently we have a circular chicken-and-egg argument about aged‑care facilities. The Federal Government says it has a formula to staff it but it cannot apply the formula unless the State agrees to build it. The State says it will not build the infrastructure without confirmation from the Federal Government that it will fund the staffing. Around it goes, nothing happens and families and couples are forced apart. Given we have a Liberal‑Nationals Government at a State and Federal level, why can this not be worked out? It does not take much time on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website to work out the number of well‑aged people in our communities. They are the same communities that have been asking for decades for these services. They should not have to ask and they should not have to fight. Well‑aged people have a right to age in their community surrounded by friends and family. A gentleman from Lake Cargelligo said to me and the Minister in a letter:
I have seen friends have their wife or husband leave the community to get placement and the toll this takes on them both and the family is unfair. My wife and I have been married for over 60 years, raised our family, worked in the community, volunteered for the community. And then in your last years of life must leave all you know. Live with people you don't know and only see family and friends when they can make the 200km plus trip. I am asking you to look into more Aged Care beds at Lake Cargelligo so the last years of our life is with the ones we love around us.
That is just one of many letters I receive describing the heartbreaking decision that well‑aged people face in the bush. I highlight a passionate community group called Lake Cargelligo All Care, which came about following a public meeting held in Lake Cargelligo in June 2011. Over 100 people attended a meeting about the need for more aged‑care beds in town. At that time, community members in need of longer term care for any reason were required to access care elsewhere. That meant that relatives, sometimes elderly themselves, were disadvantaged not only financially but also socially. The situation has not changed.
Lake Cargelligo has 16 residential aged‑care beds. Projections from 2013 for 2020 were that Lake Cargelligo would need 94 aged‑care beds. No new beds have been established to meet that need. All Care has been lobbying for increased aged‑care resources consistently since it was established. It has seen local health district CEOs come and go. It has received response after response from State and Federal Ministers reinforcing the chicken-and-egg argument I touched on earlier. In 2016 All Care was told by the local health district that it was not on the upgrade radar and would not be for another 30 years. Messages like that have not halted the group. All Care and the community have raised over $45,000 to go towards addressing the problem.
All Care Lake Cargelligo have done everything ever asked of them by State and Federal governments to prove they need additional aged‑care resources. It is high time that work is recognised and the Government should step in to address the shortage to address families being ripped apart. State and Federal governments need to show respect for our well‑aged citizens. Respect would mean acknowledging the needs of those communities and adequately resourcing aged care so people are not separated from family and spouses.