It has been revealed there was a dramatic decline in home care quality inspections this year and the regulator was dangerously slow to issue compliance responses to homes experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks, as Australia’s aged care regulator went under the microscope this week.
Appearing before the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety on Wednesday, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner, Janet Anderson, admitted the number of inspections of home care services had declined in the last year.
It was also revealed the regulator issued ‘notices to agree’ in aged care facilities only after COVID-19 outbreaks had already occurred.
Home care inspections down
The royal commission heard on Wednesday that the number of quality inspections of home care services had declined in the last year, despite the Quality Commission being given more than $6.5 million to employ more assessors.
Counsel assisting the royal commission, Peter Gray QC, said there had been “a remarkable reduction” in the number of quality reviews and assessment contacts in home services.
He showed documents revealing there were 145 home care quality reviews in the March quarter of 2019 and 181 quality reviews in the June quarter 2019, but only 24 quality reviews in the September quarter 2019, 22 in the December quarter, and 29 in the March 2020 quarter.
When pressed, Ms Anderson admitted, “I think the point you are making is valid … regulatory activity in so far as you would include quality reviews and assessment contacts, as reported, have declined.”
The decline was attributed to increased staff turnover, in part because of the retirement of a number of experienced staff, but also because of the use of contractors.
In its submission to the royal commission, the Quality Commission said it was increasing its home care compliance activity, but the change was progressing “more slowly than planned”.
Regulator’s slow response to COVID-19 outbreaks in aged care homes
Information provided to the Senate’s COVID-19 committee shows the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission issued 10 “notices to agree” in the five months to 4 August.
A ‘notice to agree’ is officially called a ‘Notice of Requirement to Agree to Certain Matters’. It sets out terms the provider must implement to address compliance failures. If not adhered to, the provider will lose its accreditation.
According to reports in The Age, St Basil’s Home for the Aged already had 51 cases of COVID-19 when it received a “notice to agree”.
Estia Health in Ardeer received its notice on 26 July when it already had 68 cases.
Epping Gardens had 82 cases on 28 July, when it received its notice.
Of the 10 facilities issued with ‘notices to agree’, 403 residents contracted COVID-19 and 75 residents died.