Aged care provider Bupa has been hit with a $6 million penalty for accepting payment for services it was not delivering to clients, or only delivering in part.
The Federal Court has ordered Bupa Aged Care Australia to pay the hefty penalty for making misleading statements.
The lapses were identified in 20 Bupa aged care homes, 10 in New South Wales, seven in Victoria, two in Queensland and one in Tasmania. Thousands of residents are believed to have paid for the services not delivered.
The court also ordered Bupa to pay back all affected current and past residents within 12 months.
Bupa has been returning funds to customers since 2018 and estimates the payouts will amount to around $18.3 million in total.
Between 15 April 2013 to June 2018, residents at 20 of Bupa’s aged care homes paid for a package of extra services. The cost of these services often amounted to thousands of dollars every year.
Bupa admitted it failed to supply some of the extra services, or only partly supplied them.
A total of 95 extra services were either not provided or only partly provided, including:
- specialised gardens or rooms specifically designed to assist those living with dementia,
- fully equipped physiotherapy rooms,
- golf days,
- dry cleaning valet services,
- the options to order favourite meals,
- talking book libraries, to assist people who are blind or who have visual, physical or reading disabilities,
- separate external buildings available for leisure activities,
- hot breakfasts,
- travel escorts for outside appointments, and
- individually controlled heating and cooling.
“Bupa’s failure to provide services for which it accepted payment is extremely disappointing and likely lessened the quality of life of the aged care residents in Bupa’s care,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said in a statement.
“The offer of these services may have played a part in residents and their families choosing a particular Bupa facility,” Mr Sims said.
“These vulnerable residents and their families may not have been aware that these extra services were not being provided, although they were being paid for.”
“We took this case to court despite Bupa self-reporting to the ACCC, because Bupa’s conduct impacted substantial numbers of elderly and vulnerable consumers for a significant period of time,” Mr Sims said.
Bupa still trying to contact some customers
Suzanne Dvorak, Managing Director Bupa Villages and Aged Care Australia, apologised for the error and the impact it has had on residents and their families.
“Having a family member enter aged care is often a stressful time, and we are deeply sorry for our mistake, which impacted some of our residents and their loved ones,” Ms Dvorak said in a statement.
“As soon as we discovered our error, we voluntarily reported the issue to the ACCC and other regulators.”
“We have also strengthened our internal processes and training as a result of this issue. We have since voluntarily revoked ‘extra service status’ in all of our care homes, which means we no longer charge extra for these services where we offer them,” Ms Dvorak said.
Bupa confirmed that a small number of former residents have not yet received reimbursement as their contact details have not been able to be located. Bupa is continuing to attempt to contact these families.
The court’s orders relate to Bupa homes in:
- Bankstown, NSW
- Banora Point, NSW
- Berry, NSW
- Dural, NSW
- Mosman, NSW
- Queens Park, NSW
- Sutherland, NSW
- Tamworth, NSW
- Roseville, NSW
- Willoughby, NSW
- Berwick, VIC
- Bonbeach, VIC
- Caulfield, VIC
- Coburg, VIC
- Croydon, VIC
- Donvale, VIC
- Greensborough, VIC
- Glenvale, QLD
- New Farm, QLD
- South Hobart, TAS
If you believe you or a loved one may have paid for Bupa services not received you can contact the organisation on 1300 072 311.
Image: Adene Sanchez, iStock.