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Macedon Ranges Shire Council under fire as aged care services scrapped

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The Australian Services Union has blasted Macedon Ranges Shire Council’s decision to forego its in-home aged care program, electing to privatise the service instead.

Council chief executive Bernie O’Sullivan said changes to the way the Federal Government funded and provided aged care services prompted the council change.

He said council would seek other ways to support its ageing population on a larger scale, and the Federal Government would allocate providers to supply services currently delivered by council, including domestic assistance, personal care, respite, social support and centre-based meals.

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In January the Federal Government published a paper outlining the proposed design of a new Support at Home Program, which will take effect from July 1 next year.

The program will replace the existing Commonwealth Home Support Program, CHSP, Home Care Packages, HCP, and Short Term Restorative Care, STRC, programs.

Mr O’Sullivan said the reforms meant council could no longer provide in-home aged care.

“Council has been reviewing its own service delivery in aged care since reforms began to be introduced 10 years ago, which includes the way home-support programs are funded, planned and delivered,” he said.

“The aim of these reforms is to increase the number of service providers, and create more choice and flexibility for clients. These reforms encourage providers to have size, scale and efficiencies, making it difficult for councils to continue delivering direct care services.

“Making this decision now, before the Commonwealth’s proposed shift to the new Support at Home model, ensures our valuable clients and dedicated staff will be as prepared and supported as they can be for the change.

“Our goal now turns to continuity of care until our current contract ends in mid-2023, and ensuring our clients experience a seamless transition to new service providers when the time comes.”

But Australian Services Union secretary Lisa Darmanin said the move would put vulnerable elderly Macedon Ranges residents at risk.

She said there was a ‘serious risk’ that in-home aged care services could collapse in the Macedon Ranges, mirroring the situation in Mornington Peninsula Shire where councillors made a similar decision earlier this year.

“Macedon Ranges councillors knew similar decisions by other councils had left elderly residents without any care for months, but they went ahead anyway,” she said.

“This decision will result in highly trained and dedicated in-home aged care workers being pushed into insecure work on lower wages and reduced conditions.

“The experience at other councils who have privatised in-home aged care is long term workers have refused to accept the insecure work and lower employment conditions offered by private providers and the services to elderly residents have collapsed.

“Councillors even chose to hide this decision from public scrutiny in a confidential meeting of the council.”

Ms Darmanin said the fact councillors made the call to scrap aged care services during a private session was ‘a subversion of democracy’

“With councillors choosing to hide the decision from the public, they must be scared of being held accountable for abandoning vulnerable elderly residents,” she said.

“With decisions like this one, that will push workers into insecure work and risk the collapse of in-home aged care in the shire, it’s no wonder satisfaction with Macedon Ranges Shire is falling.”

Mr O’Sullivan said council remained committed to supporting its aged care staff and volunteers, as well as more than 400 clients, until July next year.

Mayor Jennifer Anderson said council would continue to invest in other services for elderly people, including social connection programs, improving infrastructure, advocacy and attracting support services to the shire.

“We believe this is an opportunity to work with older people across the shire to co-design a new model of information, advocacy and services, ensuring that we reinvest in the activities that will provide benefit to a broader range of older people, addressing local needs beyond the Commonwealth Government’s aged care program,” she said.

“Currently, less than five percent of the almost 10,000 people aged 65-plus living in the shire are accessing commonwealth supported aged care services through council, including cleaning and respite.

“Council is keen to expand the reach of the work we will do in the future to support an increased number of older people in different ways, outside of the commonwealth’s Support at Home model.”

Cr Anderson said council had committed to working with the Federal Government on the timing of the service transition to protect the best interests of clients, their families, staff and the community.

She said council would consult senior citizens across the Macedon Ranges to develop a new model of information, advocacy, activities and support.

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