We often hear that an aged care facility has been ‘sanctioned’ because it has failed to comply with the industry’s quality standards.

But why are some aged care facilities penalised in this way and not others?

Four Corners revealed that a facility in Sydney was not sanctioned, even though alleged abuse was filmed there, and the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency audited the facility soon after the alleged incidents.

How much do we really know about sanctions?

When announcing the Royal Commission into Aged Care, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the number of aged care facilities that had been sanctioned in the last year had risen 136 per cent.

According to a spokesperson from the Department of Health, the sharp increase is not so much about an increase in the number of facilities not complying with the standards, but more the result of increased government surveillance.

“Compliance activity has increased significantly in the past 18 months,” the spokesperson from The Department told HelloCare.

“The number of sanctions imposed by the Department has risen, from 11 in 2016-17 to 26 in 2017-18,” they said.

The increase in non-compliance lead the government to introduce unannounced audits from 1 July 2018, they said.

Why are nursing homes sanctioned?

When the AACQA audits an aged care facility and finds that it doesn’t comply with the 44 Aged Care Quality Standards, the Department of Health initially tries to engage with the provider to encourage voluntary compliance.

If this is not successful, or not appropriate, The Department may issue a Notice of Non-Compliance.

If non-compliance continues, or where there is immediate or severe risk to the safety, health or well-being of residents, The Department may impose sanctions.

“Sanctions require the provider to remedy the issues promptly, and are intended to assist the provider to implement changes so that they can sustain compliance,” a spokesperson from The Department told HelloCare.

What are the sanctions?

There are a range of penalties that can be applied to an aged care facility when sanctions are imposed. The types of sanction depend on the nature of the non-compliance.

There are a maximum of four sanctions which can be imposed on a provider. The possible sanctions are:

  • The provider is not allowed to receive Commonwealth subsidies for any new resident at the facility for a specified period, usually six months.
  • The facility’s approved provider status will be revoked, unless an adviser is appointed to the home, at the operator’s expense, to help the operator comply with its responsibilities.
  • The facility’s approved provider status will be revoked, unless an administrator is appointed, at the operator’s expense, to assist the home comply with its  governance and business operations responsibilities.
  • The facility’s approved provider status will be revoked, unless an the operator agrees to provide relevant training within a set period, at its expense, for care staff, managers and key personnel.

How are residents informed?

When an aged care facility is sanctioned, the operator must inform residents by letter. The letter must include:

  • A description of the problems that caused the sanctions to be imposed.
  • The actions that the operator is taking in order to fix the problems.

The operator must also meet with residents and families to talk to them about the sanctions, and to answer any questions they might have.

“It is important that residents and relatives of the sanctioned service are the first to be informed on any non-compliance at the service, and as such the department does not release information on non-compliance until after this meeting,” said the spokesperson from The Department.

The Department of Health’s role while sanctions are in place

The Department closely monitors facilities that have been sanctioned. It makes sure the facility is addressing the issues of non-compliance, and it also ensures that residents are being supported while the sanctions are in place.

When are sanctions lifted?

Sanctions are lifted when a delegate from the Department of Health determines that the provider has rectified the matters of non-compliance, once the expiry date of the sanctions passes.

Providers can also apply to have their sanctions lifted prior to the expiry date.  

How can you find out if a nursing home has been sanctioned?

Information about all sanctioned aged care facilities is available on the My Aged Care website. The Department posts the information online as soon as residents and families have been informed that sanctions have been imposed.

The information published on the site includes:

  • the name and address of the services,
  • the name of the approved provider,
  • the sanctions imposed,
  • relevant dates (such as when the sanctions were imposed and when they are due to expire), and
  • the accreditation status of the facility.

How long is information about sanctions available to the public?

Information about sanctions is never deleted. Once sanctions expire or are removed by The Department, then all that information is moved on the My Aged Care website from ‘Current Sanctions’ to ‘Archived Sanctions’. That information is always available to the public.

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