Port Kembla resident Prabhunath Mukherjee is approved for a high-level home care package – but is forced to use his pension to pay for services while he waits for it to be funded.
The 65-year-old is not alone. Around 950 elderly lllawarra residents remain on the waiting list for home care packages according to new figures – with many more stuck on lower-level packages not suitable for their high-care needs.
‘’It’s very frustrating – no-one can tell me how long I will have to wait,’’ Mr Mukherjee said. ‘’I had to retire from my job as an engineer due to mental health issues caused by family breakdown – and I live here alone with no family support.
‘’I was assessed and approved for a level four package, but have only received a level two package which helps me with cleaning. So I have to pay for things like transport to doctors’ appointments and shopping and for social and multicultural services; out of my disability pension. It’s a bit of a struggle.’’
Cunningham MP Sharon Bird has called on the Turnbull government to fix the home care ‘’crisis’’ in the Illawarra – and nationally, with over 100,000 older Australians waiting for care.
Ms Bird said it was unacceptable that some people were waiting 12 months or more to be cared for in their own home.
‘’The government’s data reveals that in the last quarter (July to September) 950 older Illawarra residents were waiting for care – up from 800 the previous quarter,’’ she said.
‘’This is a critically important issue for lots of people in our community.
‘’I’ve had individual constituents coming to me – the children of elderly people who are distressed and upset because their parent has been assessed as eligible for a home care package, but is still waiting for it to be delivered.
‘’I’ve also talked to home care providers, such as IRT, and it’s a real dilemma for them too as they have people on the list but don’t have the funding to provide packages for them.’’
Ms Bird said residents like Mr Mukherjee were the ‘’hidden statistics’’.
‘’They are not counted on the official waiting list as they have a lower level package – but they’re not getting the level of care that they need,’’ she said.
Ms Bird said home care was a more affordable option for government than full-time residential care. It also provided many benefits to older people.
‘’It’s good for elderly people to stay at home for as long as sensibly possible because it leads to better health and well-being outcomes, and helps them stay connected to their family and their community.’’
Long waits for assistance put a lot of pressure on the families of these elderly residents, she said, many of whom were juggling full-time jobs and their own family needs with caring for their mother or father.
‘’We have a big commuter community in the Illawarra and it’s very hard for people to travel to and from Sydney each day, while also assisting their elderly parent to get to appointments or to do their shopping or other tasks,’’ Ms Bird said.
Gy Wallace, CEO of IRT at Home, said said in-home care enabled older Australians to live independently in their home for longer.
‘’We provide a range of services including shopping, personal care, transport and home and garden maintenance,’’ he said.
‘’Currently we have 230 package customers, with 40 to 50 waiting to take up a package which has a significant impact on both them and their families.
‘’… Lack of funding for home care leads to a higher uptake of people moving into residential care, which is also a great option, but it’s about choice and if people want to remain at home they should be supported to do so.’’
According to the federal health department website, the home care packages program has undergone significant reform.
Since February 27, all packages have been provided directly to individuals rather than to approved providers, to give people more choice.
A national prioritisation process had also been established to enable a ‘’fairer, national way of allocating home care’’ based on people’s individual needs and circumstances and the time they had waited for care.
A federal department of health spokeswoman said around 40 per cent of those on the prioritisation queue were receiving an interim level of care while they waited for a higher level package.
Many others were accessing interim services through the Commonwealth Home Support Program.
‘’In mid-September 2017, the government announced the release of 6000 additional level 3 and 4 home care packages in response to the strong demand for high level home care packages,’’ she added.
‘’The impact of releasing these packages to consumers will become more evident in future reporting quarters.’’
The spokeswoman said 1498 Illawarra residents were receiving home care packages, as at June 30, 2017.