With her Elvis Presley pillow on the couch and pictures of some of her seven footy-playing sons on display, Valerie Judd is very happy with her small, independent living unit at a seniors’ community in Geelong.
- The Fair Work Commission has set a minimum shift time of two hours for part-time care workers
- There have been concerns workers on multiple short visits aren’t compensated for their travel time
- But the industry is concerned people on home care packages will not get the same level of care
The 86-year-old lives with dementia, on her own. Seven days a week, home care workers come for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening to give her support.
“She needs help with her medication. That’s non-negotiable,” said Jessica Rutherford, one of the carers who regularly visits.
Ms Rutherford also collects meals for Valerie from the community’s central kitchen.
“She’s got dementia. She’ll forget. She won’t eat. That’ll make her get sick. So, it’s not an option… she needs us here,” she said.
Like many of the nearly 200,000 older Australians with federally-funded Home Care packages, the support Valerie gets is vital, but brief. Two one-hour visits a day ensure she can stay in her own home.
“I’ve never needed any more time to do what I need to do,” Ms Rutherford said.
However, a Fair Work Commission decision delivered in February will mean changes to the visits Valerie and other older Australians receive.
A ‘big change’ for home care staff
A review of the award that covers part-time care workers – the bulk of the home care support workforce – will set a minimum shift time of two hours.
The changes to the Social, Community, Home Care and Disability Services Industry (SCHADS) Award come into effect on July 1.
“It’s going to be a big change,” said Paul Sadler, chief executive of Peak Body Aged and Community Services Australia.
“What that means is that, where we used to be able to engage staff for a half hour or an hour shift, we will now have to engage those staff for a minimum of two hours.”
For Valerie Judd, that means her Home Care package will now only cover half the weekly visits she needs, because she will no longer be able to schedule two separate one-hour visits a day.
“Having an hour means that she can have what she needs done in the morning and what she needs in the evening,” Ms Rutherford explained.
“If we have to boost that to two hours, then how can she have those two services? Right now, I know her budget’s pretty tight.”
Concerns workforce shortage could worsen
Awards are routinely reviewed by the Fair Work Commission, and changes are often made to improve pay and working conditions.
There have been concerns home care workers on multiple short visits aren’t compensated for their time traveling to and from call-outs, and they may be so rushed they do not get adequate breaks.
But Ms Rutherford believes the new rules are not an improvement.
“If they want to do anything and make it better for carers, maybe look at what we’re actually paid rather than how much we work, and our minimums,” she said.
Providers are also concerned that the new rules could further stress the home care workforce.
“It could have disastrous consequences for the industry and, particularly, for the clients,” said Giovanni Siano, the owner and director of provider Home Instead Geelong.
“A caregiver can do potentially up to six visits a day. Now, with the introduction of the two-hour minimum engagement, the same caregiver can only [do] three visits a day. “
To service clients who can afford to maintain the same number of visits, it will take more home care workers. Mr Siano’s staff of 320 care workers currently struggles to meet demand.
“We already have a shortage of workforce as it stands now,” he said.
Mr Siano said he appreciated the Fair Work Commission’s attempt to improve conditions for home care workers. But, he says, the change to a two-hour minimum does not anticipate the full impact on clients.
“They’re already on a budget. They’ve been relying on those multiple visits a week and now, all of a sudden, that will be halved,” he said.
In a statement, the federal government said it had invested more than $ 18 billion in the aged care sector, as well as funding in the latest budget to upskill the workforce.
“This includes funding to attract an additional 18,000 new personal care workers, as well as financial support for registered nurses working in aged care,” a spokesperson said.
A family’s worries about ‘detrimental’ impacts
For Valerie Judd, the consequences could be life-changing.
Her granddaughter, Melissa Judd, helped navigate the My Aged Care system to secure a level 4 Home Care package for Valerie, worth about $ 52,000 a year. She said there was “just enough funding” to cover two, one-hour visits per day.
However, after July 1, Valerie’s package will not cover the visits she needs, and the family can not afford to make up the difference.
Without those two visits a day, Valerie will not be able to keep living on her own.
“So, it essentially means that she’ll have to move into a high level of care because she will not be able to have morning and evening visits,” Ms Judd said.
No-one wants to see Valerie move into residential aged care but there may be no other option.
“It’s hugely, hugely disappointing,” Ms Judd said of the upcoming rule changes.
“It’s going to have such a detrimental effect to the people that rely on these services. And I just do not think people are aware of it, which is really quite scary.”