There is a shortage of aged care services in rural and regional areas, and older people are seeking care too late, new research shows.
Researchers at La Trobe University have submitted a research report to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.
The report identified numerous issues, including limited choice of providers, long waiting lists and lack of knowledge about accessing care.
Researchers interviewed 20 older adults receiving either CHSP or a home care package and living in a rural or regional area in Victoria or NSW.
Professor Irene Blackberry, Director of La Trobe University’s John Richards Centre for Rural Ageing Research, said there is a lack of choice for older people in rural areas.
“When older people are accessing services via the (internet) or the phone, it appears that there are so many services they can access, but in fact none of the service providers can deliver the service for them in their community,” she told Community Care Review.
“Particularly in the rural area, sometimes you have one or no service providers. As a result of that, people really do not have a choice.”
Older people also experience long waiting times to receive their CHSP or HCP.
“Unlike healthcare, that is equipped to act and treat older people when ailment occurs, access to appropriate aged care services may not always be readily available when and where it is required,” the report says.
More awareness needed
Professor Blackberry believes the first step to improving the situation is increasing awareness amongst health professionals and older people.
Older people tend to rely on their general practitioners or other health care providers to inform them to seek care and assist them in finding that care, however, the report revealed that some health professionals lacked knowledge of My Aged Care.
“Participants were telling us they would like the primary care providers or primary care practitioners to be more knowledgeable and have more training about what services are available and also about how they can support older people,” Professor Blackberry said.
One of the recommendations of the report is to provide mandatory training and continuing professional development for primary healthcare teams.
Seeking help too late
Professor Blackberry says older people often seek access to services too late.
“They want to maintain their independence and they want to manage the best they can as long as possible, which is a good thing,” she said.
“But the downside to that is that people tend to access services at a crisis point and, by then, you don’t have services in their local community who can actually deliver that.”
Many of these people delay seeking help because they believe others are worse off than them and in more urgent need of aged care services.
“People shouldn’t be ashamed to access help because essentially that will maintain and prolong their quality of life,” Professor Blackberry said.
“They mean well, but the negative impact on that longer term is that by the time you access services, it’s just way too late. You cannot live in the rural or regional areas independently by yourself.”
She believes the current one-size-fits-all approach to aged care isn’t working.
“The government is very supportive of healthy aging and maintaining productivity, and I think it aligns well,” she said.
“But the issue at the moment is that the system’s one-size-fits-all doesn’t quite work well in the rural and regional communities.”
The aged care market in rural areas is different to that of urban areas, the report says.
“The consumer-based market model fails in rural areas because markets are thin, often with no choice,” it says.
A solution could be appointing an independent aged care coordinator within every rural local government area with knowledge of the local context.
“The My Aged Care website perpetuates a false idea of choice in rural areas, when in reality there is no choice available locally,” the report said.
“Only a person with specific local knowledge of a particular rural area would be able to field enquiries to provide the correct, specific information required by rural older people.”
Professor Blackberry believes a collaborative approach will help strengthen rural communities.
“It’s about the whole of the community helping each other to work together to support older people to live independently in the community,” she said.
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