Lessons of the COVID-19 crisis for Aged Care Reform – Submission 1

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many longstanding as well as new issues in aged care reform.

The pandemic is ongoing and continues to have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of older Australians. This submission was written largely in response to the first wave of the virus and does not include detail on the current crisis in residential aged care in Victoria. COTA has more information to add and will provide this to the Royal Commission in a future submission.

Using case study examples, the submission provides some of the key lessons from the initial stages of the pandemic where most aged care providers engaged in a blanket lockdown of residential aged care facilities resulting in confusion, distress and frustration for residents, families and carers. COTA gained many insights through its key role in advocating for a visitor code, endorsed by National Cabinet after several weeks, that provided guidelines for consistent, compassionate and safe visits to residential facilities. This experience highlighted the over-institutionalised nature of aged care in Australia, supporting the conclusion already reached by the Royal Commission.

COVID-19 has shone a light on reform issues at both the community/service delivery level and on a big picture level. The submission uses evidence received from of older Australians to outlined lesson related to service delivery such as the inadequacy of infection control, communication processes with consumers, families and friends, effectiveness of home care service delivery, loneliness and mental health in the community, access to respite care, inequities with technology, maintaining on-going health care for older people and elder abuse.

Big picture reform lessons are also discussed including confronting ageism and addressing human rights, maintaining and enabling quality, governance and establishing a consumer focused service culture, improving coordination between aged care and health care, funding and service flexibility, improving public messaging, adequacy of data collection and strengthening the consumer voice.