Regions need integrated model, says Whiddon CEO

Uncertainty remains around how funding plans will flow through to non-metro areas.

Ahead of the federal budget on 14 May, New South Wales and Queensland aged care provider Whiddon is calling on the NSW and Australian governments to adopt and invest in an integrated approach to healthcare in regional communities.

In March, the long-awaited final report of the Aged Care Taskforce detailed 23 recommendations on how to create a sustainable aged care system.

However, as Whiddon chief executive officer Chris Mamarelis notes, uncertainty remains around the exact funding commitments and how block funding referenced in the report would flow through to regional providers. “From our perspective as a not-for-profit provider, with a strong commitment to regional Australia, there is still work to do,” he said.  

Chris Mamarelis

Having experienced firsthand the difficulties of delivering care to regional communities, Mr Mamarelis said the state and federal governments needed to bring a more holistic and collaborative approach to caring for seniors living outside metropolitan areas.

“There is a unique opportunity for state and federal governments and regional providers to work together to tackle the challenges facing our regions. I passionately believe that if we can create a single focus on the health requirements of our communities, one that brings together state-funded hospitals and federally funded aged care, we can deliver a truly holistic health journey that better meets the needs of ageing communities in regional and remote areas, particularly within these regional communities where health resources are scarce.”

Regional aged care providers face a number of barriers to delivering high-quality care, said Mr Mamarelis, including workforce and accommodation shortages, and financial sustainability issues.

While acknowledging that the federal government has made commitments to fund more multi-purpose services in regional and remote locations of Australia, Mr Mamarelis said these services lacked the holistic and specialised aged care programs that local communities urgently required.

The Centre for Rural Ageing and Aged Care Research estimates that over the next decade Australia would need another 3,500 aged care beds and an additional 2,500 home care packages to support older people living in regional communities.

“As our population ages, we know the need for more aged care beds and homes will only increase, but there is no real incentive for investment in the sector. This must also be addressed,” said Mr Mamarelis. “The government and our community alike expect more from the aged care sector, as they should. However, without adequate funding and investment, it’s hard to see how we as providers can deliver the improvements that are needed.”

The health needs of regional communities shouldn’t be impacted by government jurisdictions, added Mr Mamarelis. Covid, he noted, highlighted the barriers this creates and how government at all levels can unite for the betterment of our communities.

“At the moment, investment in aged care continues to be impacted by uncertainty and volatility,” said Mr Mamarelis.  “While we are experiencing some improvement, we are still at the mercy of government regarding the journey ahead. As a sector we must rise to the challenge and provide the care that Australians need and deserve.”

We can’t keep neglecting the regions

Chris Mamarelis

With 21 per cent of residential aged care and 25 per cent of home care serving rural, remote or very remote areas of the country – and more than 600,000 people moving to the regions since the pandemic hit – Mr Mamarelis said it’s crucial that the upcoming budget included a funding pipeline so that providers could keep servicing these areas.

“We can’t keep neglecting the regions,” said Mr Mamarelis. “To meet the demand for aged care services in coming years, we need more investment in workforce, infrastructure, innovation and building development. There’s a real need for incentives to encourage growth in the sector.”

Despite the ongoing funding challenges facing the aged care sector, last week Whiddon announced it had completed a co-funded $13 million project over the past 12 months to redevelop and upgrade its Narrabri, Wingham and Bourke sites.

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Tags: budget, Budget 2024, Chris Mamarelis, whiddon,

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