Billions extra: the cost of good aged care for everyone

Article published 22 November 2019

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ON 11 July 2019, sixty-nine residents at the Earle Haven nursing home on the Gold Coast were evacuated without warning due to a commercial dispute between the approved provider and the subcontractor actually providing the care.

The report commissioned by the Australian Government says that, with the benefit of hindsight and without blaming the Queensland emergency responders, the evacuation was unnecessary. Equipment and other replacements could have been brought in.

As it is, with all residents out, Earle Haven has lost its approved provider status, which means that this nursing home no longer operates. The provider has lost a valuable asset. However, no criminal charges could be laid, despite the trauma caused to sixty-nine residents and their families.

The report about the Earle Haven forced evacuation has come up with twenty-three substantive recommendations, which the Government says it will adopt. We discuss the three most important ones.

The first recommendation is that nursing homes should only be evacuated when the lives of residents are threatened. Floods and fires are such circumstances. In all other cases, residents should stay put and resources brought in to keep them safe.

The second recommendation is that approved providers can only contract out to other approved providers. This means that the subcontractor actually providing care will be just as accountable as the principal provider. Both will have something to lose. In the Earle Haven case, the subcontractor could walk away without any consequences. Only Earle Haven lost its approved status and was punished.

The third important recommendation is for the expansion of official sanctions. An approved provider can be forced to sell its entire nursing home business or an individual nursing home.

This comes on top of revocation of a nursing home’s accreditation and of a provider’s accreditation, which exist now, as Earle Haven found out.

The sell-up sanction would be a sanction that can be used in a range of circumstances. For example, a too-big-to-fail provider such as Bupa Australia could be forced to sell one or more of its nursing homes where its performance fell short. That would hurt BUPA but not cause a nationwide crisis and displacement of residents.

The recommendations of the report are good, but it is disappointing that there are no recommendations for the compliance regime to include criminal charges and huge fines where safety, health and wellbeing of vulnerable nursing home residents have been compromised.

Because that is what clearly happened at Earle Haven.

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