Regulations impossible in small towns

Carinity Summit Cottages at Mount Morgan.

Mount Morgan will lose its only aged care home because of a botched decision by the Federal Government.

The families of Mount Morgan are the victims. Marlene Sealey is a long-term resident of Mount Morgan. Marlene is 80 years old and visits her husband, Fred, who has dementia, six times a week at the local aged care home.

The new Labor Government has introduced inflexible rules that require Aged Care Homes to have a registered nurse rostered on 24 hours a day. This is impossible in a small town like Mount Morgan, so the aged care home there is closing down.

Marlene’s husband will have to move to a home in Rockhampton, a 40 minute drive away. Marlene does not drive so she will no longer be able to see her husband as often.

A cruel and rigid government policy will cause a massive heartache for an average Australian family.

Labor’s nurses policy was developed while they were in Opposition. When you are in Opposition it is difficult to develop detailed policy. You do not have departmental staff to cost things for you. You often cannot get information from industry because they would prefer to talk to governments.

So I have sympathy for Anthony Albanese’s mistakes in his election policy on aged care, which included a requirement for a registered nurse to be present 24 hours a day at all aged care homes from July 2023.

Mr Albanese announced this policy in his budget in reply speech in 2022. Within days, his Health Shadow Minister admitted that it might not be possible to find enough nurses to meet the policy.

I have less sympathy now that the Labor party is in Government and is pigheadedly pursuing this policy regardless of its tragic impact on families.

From July this year, aged care homes must have a registered nurse on site 24 hours a day. For a single aged care home this means that they need at least three registered nurses to cover three, eight hour shifts a day. But then more are needed to cover holidays and absences. I am told that Mount Morgan would need five registered nurses on its books to meet the Government’s requirements.

An aged care home in Mount Morgan will never be able to find five registered nurses. The Government’s policy, in effect, means that Mount Morgan can never have an aged care home no matter how well it is run.

The Government does have some exemptions from its rules but an exemption can only be provided for 12 months. Mount Morgan cannot find five registered nurses this year but nor will it be able to find five registered nurses next year. The Government’s exemptions delay aged care home closures, they do not avoid them.

Stringent restrictions will always have an unequal impact on smaller towns. It is not just Mount Morgan that has been impacted. An aged care home in Tiaro has also shut.

The answer here is simple even if it would require the Government eating some humble pie.

Small towns like Mount Morgan should be exempt from a 24 hour requirement. There should still, of course, be regulation of aged care homes in country towns but that should be applied on a case by case basis that suits the community and people impacted.

Instead, this Labor Government seems intent on pursuing a heartless aged care policy that ignores the needs of country people and causing unnecessary anxiety for people like Marlene.