Are Nursing Homes Disappearing?

Article published 24 July 2018

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The Aged Care Financing Authority (ACFA) sounds the alarm.

Something curious is happening in residential aged care.

In 2015, the total number of nursing home places was 192,370. The next year that number rose 1.7 per cent to 234,931, in 2017 it rose 2.5 per cent to 239,379.

While the number of of nursing home places rose 1.7 per cent in 2015 – 2016, the population aged 70 and over rose 3.4 per cent. That’s double.

In 2016 – 2017, when nursing home places increased by 2.5 per cent, the population 70 and over rose 4.8 per cent. That’s almost double.

This is at the time of a grey tsunami gathering pace. You would expect the number of both the actual people staying and living in a nursing home as well as the number of nursing home places to rise and rise steeply at that.

Not happening.

The Aged Care Financing Authority (ACFA) sounds the alarm in its most recent annual report, saying: “It is estimated that the residential care sector will need to build an additional 83,500 places over the next decade in order to meet the provision target of 78 operational places per 1,000 people aged 70 and over”.

The Aged Care Minister seems to be in sync with ACFA with his announcement on 2 July 2018 of a “record aged care offering” with 14,200 residential aged care places on offer plus $60 million in capital grants to assist in the construction of nursing homes.

On the same day the Minister announced the record number of nursing home places, he announced that the Government would “invest $5.5 billion in local services to help approximately 800,000 older Australians live independently at home for longer”.

What to make of this?

The 14,200 places and the $60 million in capital grants are all in “rural, regional and remote locations”, according to the Minister. There’s a genuine shortage of nursing home places there.

This includes the greater Griffith area, for example. The local CPSA branch there has been campaigning for years for more places to ensure people can go into a nursing home in their community rather than having to ship out to somewhere where they don’t know anybody.

But don’t expect the overall number of nursing home residents in Australia to go up by much this year. On balance the transfer, effectively, of nursing home places to Home Care Packages will continue.

Home Care Packages are a lot cheaper than nursing home places.

For that reason, CPSA expects the “provision target of 78 places per 1,000 places” to be revised down and the requirement of 83,500 places to evaporate.

There’s no clear plan to deal with the current waiting list for Home Care Packages of over 100,000, but it is clear that Home Care Packages will continue to grow at the expense of nursing home places.

(This article previously quoted 273,503 as the number of nursing home residents for 2014-15. This number should have been 231,255. This article has been re-edited and now compares nursing home places [rather than nursing home residents] with the Australian population over 70).

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