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Aged care operators were left waiting for promised financial aid

One of the biggest measures, a workforce retention bonus, was not paid to workers until July even though it had been promised in March.

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A second instalment of the bonus is due in September, with each payment worth $800 for those in residential care and $600 for those in home care.

Aged and Community Services Australia chief Patricia Sparrow said her group and others requested greater funding for the sector early this year after seeing the pressure on workers and facilities.

“It’s true that the Commonwealth provided less funding than what was requested,” she said.

“Our initial request included things like making paid pandemic leave available for all staff, because staff had to isolate.

“That was in February or March, well ahead of where we are now, and that was not picked up.”

Ms Sparrow, whose group represents 700 charitable and community operators, said the workforce retention bonus was not as effective as it could be because it did not go to all staff in a facility.

While there are about 360,000 workers in aged care, about 125,000 are ancillary staff such as cleaners and do not qualify for the bonus because it is limited to “direct care” workers.

“Workforce is the most critical thing,” she said. “The retention bonus wasn’t paid to all staff and paid pandemic leave wasn’t available, and those things would have really helped if they’d been put in place earlier.”

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck rejected claims the government did not do enough, pointing to the federal spending and a series of alerts and guidance to the industry since January.

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Senator Colbeck said direct financial support started being paid well in advance of June 30, including a $78 million increase in the Aged Care Funding Instrument in April.

The government also offered a $22 million “uplift” in home care in April, backdated to March, and a $26 million boost in allowances for the homeless.

Senator Colbeck said aged care operators also received a $205 million COVID-19 payment in full in June as a lump sum.

The government created a “surge workforce” with contractors from Aspen Medical and Mable to fill gaps at aged care homes.

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The budget package included $308.8 million for the workforce bonus, $205.3 million for a resident care supplement for operators, $101.2 million for additional staff, $70 million for short-term home care and $59.3 million for food supplies.

Labor aged care spokeswoman Julie Collins said the government had not done enough in the “critical months” before the outbreaks in Victorian aged care homes.

“Australia’s aged care system was broken before the COVID-19 pandemic and this is only putting extra stress on the system,” Ms Collins said.

“The Morrison government must do better for our most vulnerable older Australians.

“The Morrison government must learn from the past few months and act to prevent further outbreaks in the aged care system.”

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