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2021: Our Year in Review

2021 was a year all about rebuilding for Australia. Whether it was developing on our knowledge from COVID-19 and strengthening our communities or starting the new reform journey in the aged care sector - a lot happened this year.

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2021 was a big year for the Australian aged care industry and older Australians. [Source: Shutterstock]

Some of the biggest changes and news for 2021 was coming out of the aged care sector, with a damning Final Report from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and a historic responding Budget from the Federal Government.

The aged care sector has also responded positively in turn to the changes needed in the industry.

Over this challenging and transformative year, Talking Aged Care has wrapped up the top news stories of 2021.

COVID-19

Still a strong force in news around the world, Australia moved from hiding from COVID-19 to managing and living with the virus.

At the start of 2021, Australia started to import COVID-19 vaccines that were rolled out to vulnerable people from 22 February, including to older people in residential aged care facilities.

However, people in the aged care workforce were still confused, and even struggling to get in to get their COVID-19 vaccination.

This was such a problem, that the Government was grilled in a Senate Committee hearing for its poor vaccine rollout and data collection in the aged care workforce.

By the end of the year, the Federal Government ended up mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for all aged care workers, which led to mixed responses from across the sector including workforce, industry and public.

Not soon afterwards, the Federal Government was getting called out for their poor communication and mixed messaging around getting vaccinated, which caused some vaccine hesitancy among staff.

Royal Commission

In February, the Royal Commission delivered its Final Report to Parliament, setting the tone for change in the aged care sector.

By March, Prime Minister Scott Morrison released the report to the public along with an initial response to the findings in the report. He said the report was a "once in a generation" chance to fix the aged care sector. There were 148 recommendations in the report intended to fix the broken aged care system and develop an industry built on care, dignity and respect.

The sector responded to the Final Report recommendations, which covered a wide array of reform that was necessary to better the aged care system. Many peak bodies were excited for the changes to come in aged care, over the 'Five year, five pillar' reform plan.

By May, the entire aged care sector was eagerly awaiting the Federal Budget, which would be a telling sign of how the Government was going to tackle aged care reform.

The Budget response was a big win for aged care, it was also the same day that the Government released their Formal Response to the Royal Commission Final Report.

Talking Aged Care approached aged care peak bodies in August to get their opinion on what they believed aged care would look like in five years, at the end of the Government reform plan. They all had positive views about changes to the aged care sector, but some were worried about the Government's ability to stick to the timeline.

Transformative change in the aged care industry

Peak bodies in aged care have been preparing themselves and aged care providers for changes in the aged care sector over the last few years. And in 2021, everything kicked into gear.

In February, aged care peak bodies came together to create and launch the Voluntary Industry Code of Practice for Aged Care as well as a new dedicated aged care alliance was created to drive industry reform.

The new Australian Aged Care Collaboration (AACC) demanded that the Government adopt a 15 point plan they created in April, which would give older Australians an improved aged care system in the quickest amount of time.

In August, key aged care peak bodies put the Federal Government on notice after 100 days into its May Budget plan, due to a lack of consultation with the sector about critical aged care reform.

By December, two major peak bodies, Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) and Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA), announced their intention to merge into one new overarching peak body for the aged care sector in 2022.

Workforce issues

With the new changes to aged care, multiple reports arose of an obvious lacking workforce currently and into the future.

A report was released by the Committee For Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) in August, which found that there was going to be a dire shortage of aged care workers in the country if the issue wasn't rectified, needing an increase of at least 400,000 workers by 2050.

The Federal Government released a report in September showing there was an increase in care staff over the start of the year, however, there were thousands of vacancies in direct care roles that weren't being filled in the aged care sector.

Dementia

An alarming dementia report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) was released in September, which found that dementia cases were expected to double by 2058.

Following the release of this report, dementia experts released a White Paper demanding immediate action to reform the healthcare system, as it would not be able to cope with the anticipated growth of dementia cases by 2058.

Also in September was Dementia Action Week, which encouraged a campaign calling on the community to recognise dementia discrimination and to educate themselves on dementia.

Research, reports, reform, and reviews

A shocking report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations (UN) in the first quarter of the year found that every second person in the world holds ageist attitudes against older people, which is leading to poorer physical and mental health problems in older people.

In May, a new national building code was agreed to by Federal, State and Territory Building Ministers, which would ensure all new houses built after 2022 would be more accessible to older Australians and people living with disability.

RSL LifeCare released their second Baby Boomer survey results in October, which found that 23 percent of people between 56 - 74 were less keen to move into aged care because of the impact COVID-19 had on nursing homes.

And in December the Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN) released a "landmark" report that revealed that older Australians were still experiencing unacceptable and confronting aged care experiences, including unwanted admission to residential aged care and an increased risk of abuse.

Top reader choices

The top stories for 2021 were generally COVID-19 focussed, however, there were some other important areas that TAC Readers were eager to read about.

Our most popular story two years in a row is still what age is considered old! TAC readers still want to know if they are considered "old" or not.

In March, the Age Pension had an increase due to an indexation change to social payments. National Seniors Australia pointed out that this increase followed the first time since 1997 where the Government didn't increase the Age Pension in September 2020.

As COVID-19 is still a big part of our lives, it was not surprising that our article about COVID-19 vaccines and what you need to know was incredibly popular. With misinformation running rife on social media, people were confused about the vaccines and how they worked.

Big news across the whole country, the Federal Government mandated the COVID-19 vaccine for residential aged care workers by September 2021. While workforce unions were concerned about the potential turnover of staff, most peak bodies were supportive of the mandate move and how it would protect both workers and aged care residents.

Readers were interested to know more about an alternative funding model that the Government was considering to replace the Aged Care Funding Instrument (ACFI) that has been previously used in residential aged care.

That sums up some of the biggest stories of the year for 2021! A big Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from the Talking Aged Care team.

What do you think were the biggest stories of 2021? Let us know in the comments below!

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