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Resident Ratios in Queensland Aged Care Facilities

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Ever since the news broke of the crisis at Earle Haven on the Gold Coast, providers have been bracing themselves for an inevitable knee jerk reaction from Government.

It is frustrating for anyone involved in the industry and those of us who advise providers that millions of dollars can be spent on reviews and enquiries with the resulting reports languishing on the shelves of bureaucrats and politicians; many of their recommended changes never being implemented, but a headline grabbing issue produces rushed decisions to appease angry constituents.

This time there were some stern words from the new Minister for Aged Care followed by the announcement of another enquiry. The first regulatory response has come from the Queensland Government. The Premier has announced that there will be new laws requiring Queensland’s 16 publicly owned aged care facilities to provide a minimum of 3.65 nursing hours per patient each day and to publicly report the ratios.

The Queensland Government cannot compel other facilities in Queensland to implement these changes.  They will be asked to voluntarily report staff numbers and contact hours for “public scrutiny”.  The Government is no doubt hoping that this “naming and shaming” exercise will encourage providers to adopt ratios similar to those being introduced at Government owned facilities.

As with all new laws the devil will be in the detail but here are just some of the issues that are unclear at this stage:

  1. What will be the platform for publishing ratios and how will that platform work with My Aged Care? If the method of communication is not integrated into the existing arrangements making choices about residential aged care is likely to become even more confusing for consumers.
  2. What type of nursing care will be provided through the minimum of 3.65 hours per day? Will that care be delivered by RNs or EENs? Given the Premier’s criticism of the level of care provided by registered nurses at Earl Haven; it may well be that the requirement will be to have registered nurses providing the minimum hours.
  1. Will there be any rules about the mix of nursing skills required? It is not just about raw numbers. The nursing skills required to care for residents vary depending on the level of acuity and care needs of the particular residents at a facility. Simply increasing numbers does not necessarily mean the quality of care will be improved.
  1. What will be the impact on the viability of providers in Queensland? This change could impact providers in one of two ways:
    • The Queensland Government has no capacity to increase subsidies or the care fees payable by residents so there will be no offset for the increase in costs incurred by providers who match the Government facilities.; and
    • If occupancy rates decrease further because of the unfavourable comparison between ratios at Government facilities and those at other facilities, the choices available to older people will be further restricted. Given Queensland’s geography, both Federal and State Governments should be concerned about the potential impact on regional facilities in particular.

It is unlikely that the decision about whether to publish ratios will be as straightforward as the Premier seems to think. With the Royal Commission’s recommendations still to come, providers are likely to hold off making any changes until they can access the implications of this change in the context of broader reform by the Commonwealth.

If you would like advice about the potential impact of the proposed laws, please contact us.

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