The COVID-19 pandemic has cost the aged care sector significantly through financial, talent and opportunity losses, an aged care chief has told an industry forum this week.

Leading Age Services Australia held an online forum on Tuesday to explore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the future of aged care.

Kerri Rivett, CEO of Victorian aged care provider Royal Freemasons, said the pandemic had cost her organisation millions of dollars in lost clients alone.

“Our costs have actually increased exponentially associated with the cost of equipment, the cost of staffing, the cost of training those actual staff and the lost opportunities, like the cost of occupancy declining,” Ms Rivett told the forum on Tuesday.

“In our organisation, our occupancy declined by 10 per cent.  When you compare it to the previous year, 1 per cent of our occupancy is about $1 million. So, that’s huge in the context that all our sites are actually in Victoria.”

Of even greater concern is the loss of talent and opportunity including for innovation, she said.

“The number of senior executives and the number of senior managers that have left this organisation… or left the sector because of the pressures that they’ve been under, has actually been huge,” Ms Rivett said.

“We have all our executives and all our senior management team working from home. That lost opportunity around that innovation in response to the issues that are coming at us over the next five years – that’s what has me concerned,” she said.

Grant Corderoy, Tim Hicks, Bernadette Gotch and Kerri Rivett

The forum also heard from Bernadette Gotch, chief operating officer of home care provider KinCare. She said the pandemic has increased costs by 11 to 13 per cent.

This includes the cost of putting services on hold, training, personal protective equipment and IT infrastructure to use remote services, she said.

“[But] the one that really has hit home across the remote workforce… is the mental health impacts across the board for not only customers, but also our home care workers and people in the back office,” Ms Gotch told the forum.

Future cost of aged care

Ms Rivett said pandemic-related financial costs would continue beyond COVID-normal in aged care, which she predicted was six to seven months away.

Those future costs in aged care will include changing and supporting staff roles, including infection prevention control leads, she said.

Residential aged care providers with shared rooms will also be impacted by costs moving forward, she said.

“I think as we move into COVID-normal, those providers with shared rooms, and there’s even some with quadruple rooms, they won’t be marketable because of the future and because of the possibility of infection,” Ms Rivett said.

StewartBrown senior partner Grant Corderoy said the aged care sector needed to identify the costs of changes in consumer habits because of the pandemic.

One of those is resistance to move into residential settings, Mr Corderoy said.

“They’re the costs that we really have to identify. It’s not just the physical dollar cost that we’ve identified. It’s the opportunity cost,” Mr Corderoy told the forum.

He said it was important for the sector to identify and address the foregone opportunities in aged care due to the pandemic.

“Because if they’re not funded, just getting funded for additional direct costs still leaves deficits for all providers,” Mr Corderoy said.

LASA’s From Pandemic to Endemic: The Future of Aged Care webinar took place on 30 November.

This story first appeared in Australian Ageing Agenda.

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