A community hub that’s been providing support and education for carers in regional Victoria is in danger of closing because of a lack of funds, the aged care royal commission has heard.
The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, sitting in Mildura this week, heard the Mildura Carers Hub was established in 2017 as an experimental program arising from the Mildura Carer Blueprint of the previous year.
It’s now an important venue where carers can drop in for coffee, hear speakers, and attend education sessions and carers groups.
Most importantly, it offers a chance to socialise, while countering the stress and isolation that often goes with the territory for carers.
There are 7,500 carers in the region and about 3,000 people go through Mildura hub each year, the commission heard.
The centre is funded by Carers Victoria and, until recently, the regional health service, which covered the cost of rent.
Mildura Carer Blueprint steering committee member Don Laity told the commission it looked like the hub would have to close when it lost funding in June, but the centre was extended a $20,000 lifeline by the state government which will allow it to continue operating until the end of the year.
Beyond that, the hub will have to apply for yearly grants, although the amount available, $20,000, falls well short of the $66,000 needed to pay for rent, office overheads and its sole employee.
“At the moment we are hoping that we might get a windfall from the state or federal budgets and we also apply for small bread and butter grants,” Mr Laity told the commission.
“But we’re wasting time chasing money when we should be doing what we’re here to do.
“I’m concerned about the longevity of the carers hub because I know how important it is. Without funding the carers hub will cease to operate.”
Impact of CDC on carers
The commission also heard from social worker Bonney Dietrich, who works at the carers hub and is co-ordinator for the Carers Blueprint Project , that the introduction of the NDIS and consumer directed care has come at the detriment of carers.
Ms Dietrich used to work two days a week at the hub but this has been reduced to one day since the funding cuts.
She described the hub as a service for all types of carers, including older people and people with disabilities, and a place where carers could connect, get referrals and information, and link up with services.
She gave evidence that the demographic using the hub had changed with the introduction of the NDIS, which had also resulted in the closure of a local mental health carers group.
“A lot of carers are coming in that feel like they’re being left out because of the changes,” she said.
Commissioner Lynelle Briggs asked Ms Dietrich if she was suggesting the NDIS and changes to mental health funding has meant that support services that might otherwise have been there for carers have disappeared.
“Is it that consumer directed care means that supports that might otherwise be available in the community for carer groups are no longer available?” she asked.
Ms Dietrich replied that was the case.
“That would be what we’re finding out,” she said. “The NDIS is all about the person with a disability and it’s very hard for the carers to actually get any support in that.”
Mr Laity told the commission he would like to have funding not only to keep the centre afloat but to extend it and “see it spread right across the state”, including the establishment of “pop-up centres” and outreach in other regional areas.
He said he would also like to see the hub’s opening hours extended from one day a week to five.
Commissioner Briggs questioned the witnesses about the sort of carers support group model that would work best.
“So fundamentally you’re looking for a model that has a mixture of both government support and some kind of structure or support from an organisation such as Carers Australia or carers by state, together with a paid worker of some kind… but grounded in the community?” she asked.
“That would be the ideal that we’re looking at,” Mr Laity said.
The focus on carers comes as the royal commission published its sixth background paper, Carers of Older Australians.
The paper says there is a significant value in shining a light on carers, who can face challenges such as reduced health and wellbeing and financial
difficulties, which can have significant flow-on effects for the person receiving care and the aged care system.
“As the population in Australia continues to age, the reliance on carers is set to increase,” the paper states. “The need to ensure current services appropriately assist carers to meet the needs of the people that they care for appears greater than ever.”