New laws will mean families can pull their loved one out of an aged care facility during emergencies without being charged additional fees and without fear of losing their bed.

The new Bill, which the former Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt introduced into parliament on Wednesday, 13 May, will create a new type of ‘leave’ which can be used by aged care residents in emergency situations.

Previously, permanent residents of aged care facilities could take up to 52 days every year of what is known as ‘social leave’. 

But when a resident exceeded their 52 days, the provider no longer received a subsidy payment from the government, and the resident and family was expected to cover the cost of holding the bed, a charge of around $200 per day.

Emergency leave will be applied retrospectively

The new laws will introduce a new type of ‘emergency leave’ for permanent aged care residents. The government will activate the leave during pandemics, natural disasters and other “large-scale emergency situations”, Mr Wyatt told parliament on Wednesday.

The emergency leave will be available for a set period that will be determined by the government. 

It can be applied across the country or just to a specific area or even in a single facility, and will apply in situations such as floods, bushfires and in potential future outbreaks of COVID-19.

The laws will be applied retrospectively, dating back to 1 April 2020 to ensure residents who have already been financially impacted by the need to remove their loved one from an aged care facility will be adequately covered, and to ensure aged care providers are also not left out of pocket.

Families often can’t afford to keep residents at home

Introducing the Bill, Mr Wyatt said aged care residents should be able to make their own decisions about their emotional wellbeing and physical health and safety, particularly during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“If a resident, or their family, is concerned that the current health emergency is impacting on the safe provision of residential aged care, they have the right to choose to take leave from the aged care home without incurring financial burden and without the fear of losing their room,” he said.

Mr Wyatt said the current pandemic has highlighted the “inadequacy” of the current provisions. 

“Many permanent aged care residents are seeking to temporarily relocate to stay with family and reduce their risk of exposure to the virus,” he said.

The only option available to these residents is to use their social leave or to remain in the facility.

“The difficulty is that many residents will exceed their social leave before they are ready to return to the aged care home,” Mr Wyatt said.

“If they choose to remain on leave, the additional charges that may be incurred to secure their room place a significant and unnecessary financial burden on families, carers and residents. 

“In many cases, residents may simply not be able to afford the additional charges and therefore cannot take the leave they desire.”

Amendment has received bi-partisan support

Shadow Minister for Ageing Julie Collins MP said Labor supported the change.

She said there are around 500 families currently caring for their loved ones under ‘social leave’ arrangements.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many family members have made the decision to continue caring for their loved ones in their own home and not to return to the residential aged care facility to receive care, she said.

“This has resulted… in many older Australians passing the capped 52 day social leave arrangements that we currently have. 

“The consumer, the resident or their family, is required to pay the government subsidy of $230 per resident per day to save their place in the residential aged care facility that they are taking leave from so that they can go back into that facility when the pandemic is over. 

“For many families and consumers this is a cost that they’re unable to sustain,” she said.

Change could also help in bushfire emergencies

Independent MP Helen Haines also told parliament she supported the change. She said it would also help aged care providers and residents during bushfire emergencies.

“When bushfires are approaching an aged care centre and a town is being evacuated, this is exactly the circumstance in which the minister should exercise his powers under this new bill. 

“Like all of us, aged care residents should have the freedom to choose to leave their homes when they’re in danger so they can have certainty over what happens next. 

“This bill would remove any financial burden that would dissuade them from doing so.”

Tha Aged Care Minister, Richard Colbeck, issued a statement saying, “During the COVID-19 pandemic, some aged care residents have temporarily relocated to live with family, to reduce their risk of exposure to the virus.”

“Most of these residents are likely to exhaust their 52 days before the pandemic passes, leading to extra costs on them or their families.

“The Government recognises that this isn’t fair or desirable. We have amended the Aged Care Act to give aged care residents the option of taking additional leave during an emergency.”

Image: Silvia Jansen, iStock. Models do not represent actual people or events.

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