Woonona man among hundreds in region on waiting list for home care

Lack of support: Woonona resident Susanna Elliott-Newth cares for her husband Michael around the clock as she is unable to access the high-level home care package he so desperately needs. Picture: Adam McLean
Lack of support: Woonona resident Susanna Elliott-Newth cares for her husband Michael around the clock as she is unable to access the high-level home care package he so desperately needs. Picture: Adam McLean

Dr Michael Newth was a high school language teacher for 40 years – and a renowned translator of medieval French poetry – yet cancer has robbed him of all his language skills.

Three surgeries in the past two years to remove an aggressive brain tumour has also left the Woonona man bedridden – paralysed down his right side and with minimal use of his left arm.

He’s been assessed as needing a level four home care package, yet his wife Susanna says she has been unable to find an aged care provider willing to provide him that care.

“After the ACAT (aged care assessment team) assessment I phoned 11 services – five of which said they had personal care availability, but declined to put us on their books,” Mrs Elliott-Newth said.

“Our application then went to nine service providers who all said they had vacancies in personal care. Only (one) responded but they declined due to the high level of need, despite their advertising that stated they meet all needs and have nursing staff.

“So … he’s too high care for My Aged Care.”

At 68, Dr Newth is too old for an NDIS package – yet is forced to wait for his aged care package. And he’s not alone. 

Cunningham MP Sharon Bird said government data revealed around 950 Illawarra residents were on the waiting list for home care packages; with many more forced to accept lower-level packages not suitable for their high-care needs.

Ms Bird said data released by Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt late last year showed that nationally more than 100,000 seniors were awaiting care.

“Now Mr Wyatt has announced that the latest update on the waiting list has been delayed and we fear that it has continued on an upward trajectory,” she said.

“We know that people are being left waiting a year or more to get the package they’ve been assessed as needing – it’s tough on the person who needs the package and it’s tough on families who have to fill the gap.”

Mrs Elliott-Newth said her husband was assessed at level four – the highest level of care – because he was fully dependent on her for care.

“Michael was diagnosed with a 5cm glioblastoma in January 2016,” she said. “After three successful surgeries, he still undergoes chemotherapy to slow down the growth of any remaining cancer cells present in the brain.

“However his condition is terminal and he is in a slow decline. I’m up all day and night attending to his personal care – changing his catheter, his clothes and his sheets; cleaning him; feeding him and giving him his medications.”

Now confined full-time to bed, Dr Newth is now fully dependent on Susanna for his daily care. Picture: Adam McLean

Now confined full-time to bed, Dr Newth is now fully dependent on Susanna for his daily care. Picture: Adam McLean

Mrs Elliott-Newth has been in contact with Ms Bird and is receiving some temporary assistance while she awaits her full package.

“This is a critical issue for many ageing and sick residents in the Illawarra. It is a hopeless situation and one that the government must address.”

However Mr Wyatt said that the Turnbull Government’s $5 billion increase in aged care funding announced in the Federal Budget included a major increase in home care packages.

“Home care packages will increase from 87,000 in 2017-18 to 151,000 by 2021-22. This will include a 34,000 increase in high-level packages by 2021-22,” he said.

“The immediate rollout of 14,000 additional high-care places began in July which is on top of the 6000 additional high level home care packages that was announced in late last year.”

Reinforcing the home care package increase, he said, was a funding boost to the Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP) of $5.5 billion over two years from 2018-19 to 2019-20 announced in the 2017-18 budget.

CHSP provides support to over 900,000 older Australians and funds vital services like Meals on Wheels, home maintenance and respite care in our local communities.

Mr Wyatt said the latest report on home care would be released shortly.

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