Concerns over regulation of the aged care sector have come to a head, with Hynes Lawyers partner Julie McStay having recently been engaged to undertake a long-awaited review of the Aged Care Act 1997.
McStay, head of the Hynes Lawyers health and aged care team, told Lawyers Weekly that she had been approached by the Aged Care Association Australia (ACAA) to undertake the review amidst growing concern that - as a result of the current regulatory system - the sector was becoming increasingly unable to meet the needs of Australia's ageing citizens.
"It's pretty well accepted and recognized in the industry that the current system is stymieing the growth of the aged care industry," she said.
McStay explained that there are a number of specific problems with the current regime that the review will seek to remedy, one of the primary concerns being that the current Commonwealth Government funding is insufficient to enable aged care providers to remain viable. In addition, she said, there are concerns that the Aged Care Act is overly complex and does not give providers sufficient flexibility when it comes to negotiating fees and charges with residents.
"It's well publicised in the aged care industry that the current funding arrangements aren't amenable to growth, or for people to continue as viable providers, so there need to be alternatives. So the purpose of the review is to come up with alternatives which meet the policy basis behind the legislation - which is to protect older people - but also all providers to be viable in the future so they can grow to meet demand. To incentivise people to both stay in the industry and to go into the industry," she said.
McStay said the comprehensive review will cover four main areas - the accreditation process for aged care providers, the complaints investigation scheme, current restrictions involving resident care fees and accommodation charges, and the process for allocating licenses.
She has already undertaken an initial consultation with a wide range of aged care providers across the country, as well as the banking institutions involved in lending to providers. The next step is a national survey which will be sent out to around 9,000 ACAA members, and a draft report will be prepared based on the data received. A final consultation will then take place, and McStay expects to provide a report recommending reforms to the Government by April 2010.
McStay added that being selected for the review provided a "great opportunity" to build Hynes' budding health and aged care team. "It started off with just me, and now it's me, a special counsel, a senior associate and a lawyer, so we're very committed to aged care and retirement living and keen to grow the practice," she said. "It's also a great opportunity for to be involved at the forefront of policy and legislative change."