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Coronavirus stimulus package boosts aged care

From 10-12 March, the Federal Government released stimulus packages for the healthcare sector and the economy, in response to the spreading coronavirus, aiming to boost pensioner income, strengthen aged care practices, and identified aged care as a priority area during this coronavirus threat.

Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Richard Colbeck, says the measures and funding now in place will protect residents, staff and their families. [Source: Shutterstock]
Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Richard Colbeck, says the measures and funding now in place will protect residents, staff and their families. [Source: Shutterstock]

A $17.6 billion economic stimulus package has been separated between "four key pillars", since the coronavirus, or COVID-19, has massively impacted the Australian economy.

One of those pillars includes household growth with the Government providing $4.8 billion towards a one-off $750 payment for low-income owners, such as pensioners, eligible concession cardholders, and people on Newstart or the Disability Support Pension. 

Additionally, a portion of a separate COVID-19 health package, of $2.4 billion, will be going directly into aged care. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says, “Australia isn’t immune but with this $2.4 billion [health package] boost we’re as well prepared as any country in the world.

“This package is about preventing and treating coronavirus in the coming weeks. Our medical experts have been preparing for an event like this for years and this is the next step up in Australia’s plan."

The aged care sector will receive $101.2 million for further training of aged care workers in infection control, support residential and home care providers to hire more staff, and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission will receive extra funding to help providers improve their infection control.

The Federal Government has also stated there will be additional aged care staff available in case of emergencies.

A new Medicare service for people in home isolation or quarantine is receiving $100 million in funding, which will be a bulk-billed service at no cost to patients and is available under Medicare for people aged over 70, people with chronic diseases, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over 50, and immunocompromised people.

Lastly, $170.2 million is expected to be spent on a Medicare-funded and bulk billed pathology test for COVID-19 with funding provided to aged care facilities to conduct pathology testing.

Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Richard Colbeck, says the measures now in place will protect residents, staff and their families at facilities across Australia

“Our objective is to ensure Australia’s aged care sector is ready and able to protect our most vulnerable. It remains our highest priority,” says Minister Colbeck.

“While those aged over 70 are at greater risk from the virus, it’s important to understand Australia has a robust health system. We are already ahead of the curve with practical guidelines and protocols to assist with containing outbreaks while ensuring those who contract the disease have access to the best treatment.”

The Government has been investing in a nationwide medical stockpile and aged care providers will be able to access personal protective equipment resources if needed.

“The implementation of infectious disease guidelines is nothing new for Australia’s aged care sector," adds Minister Colbeck.

“While the spread of COVID-19 presents significant problems, the Federal Government stands ready to offer support when and where needed. We will get through this together.”

Communicable Diseases Network of Australia (CDNA) will be releasing guidelines for prevention, control and management of COVID-19 for residential aged care facilities soon.

Aged care industry peak body Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) has welcomed the $101.2 million commitment from the Federal Government to specifically help aged care combat COVID-19.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of LASA, Sean Rooney, says this funding commitment is a big boost to the aged care sector.

“This is a strong start and we applaud the Government’s timely action to bolster protection for some of our most vulnerable Australians and the dedicated workforce who care for them,” says Mr Rooney.

“The funding will help boost confidence among residents, staff and families and complements the myriad actions that providers and staff are taking to protect against the virus.

“We welcome this demand-driven response and will continue working hard to link providers and the Government, should extra funding and support be needed to protect older Australians and staff in the care sector.”

LASA is also supportive of the Medicare-funded telehealth services for people over the age of 70 who live at home in isolation or quarantine or residents in aged care facilities.

Mr Rooney says, "These measures will make response times quicker and prevention and care easier in aged care residences."

“Ensuring Australians in general know the risks and the vigilance required is critical, because protecting older Australians and the people who care for them is a broader community responsibility," Mr Rooney said.

Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) is glad to see that aged care has been included in the four key pillars in the "demand driven" health package which is responding to the coronavirus.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of ACSA, Patricia Sparrow, believes this support and funding boost from the Government will help prepare aged care for what is to come.

“While aged care providers are experienced in disease control and are already doing everything they can to be prepared, the additional support announced by the government today provides welcome reassurance," says Ms Sparrow.

“It is really important that the government has acknowledged this response package needs to be 'demand-driven' and relative to the situation faced by individual providers.

“In particular we’re pleased to see support for more staffing and additional staffing costs will be made available along with education and training. Many aged care providers are already in a vulnerable position and need that commitment."

Additionally, ACSA recommends that families or friends of people in aged care should reduce their visits, especially if they are not feeling well.

“Our top priority is the protection of those in our care, and those who work in our facilities," says Ms Sparrow. 

“We look after vulnerable people every day and have plans and processes in place for outbreaks. These plans will need to be supplemented by advice and support from the health authorities including on staffing, testing and containment.

“It’s always important for families and friends to be careful when visiting aged care homes and to stay away if unwell, even if it's just a common cold.”

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety also announced on Friday that there is no public access to hearings and workshops until further notice because of the coronavirus public health risk.

This measure will protect any older person or witness appearing before the Commission from contracting coronavirus and will allow for the Commission to complete its program schedule and continue developing recommendations for the Final Report release in November.

You can still catch the live webcast on the Commission's website.

Read our first story about coronavirus on the Talking Aged Care website or head to the Department of Health website for more information about coronavirus.

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