TOUGH TIMES: St Catherine's Villa, Grafton, is safeguarding its long-term sustainability by cutting hours in response to a Federal indexation freeze impacting on aged care facilities.
TOUGH TIMES: St Catherine's Villa, Grafton, is safeguarding its long-term sustainability by cutting hours in response to a Federal indexation freeze impacting on aged care facilities. Caitlan Charles

CUTBACKS: Aged care facility to slash working hours

AN AGED care facility will cut its working hours in response to tighter government funding in the sector, but Member for Page Kevin Hogan has refuted the claims.

Southern Cross Care, who runs St Catherine's Villa confirmed a Health Services Union's statement that they will remove 418 working hours from their roster as part of a review of their operations.

HSU NSW Secretary Gerard Hayes said the reduced working hours were a blow to local workers and to aged care residents.

"The Federal Government's indexation freeze on the Aged Care Funding Instrument has put further pressure on the aged care sector at a time when it is already struggling to cope.

"The reality is now starting to bite in places like Grafton, where shifts are being slashed and services reduced."

Mr Hayes said industry research showed that in the six months to December 2017, 41 per cent of aged care facilities operated at a loss. In outer regional and remote areas, 58 per cent of aged care facilities operated at a loss.

Paul McMahon, Chief Executive of Southern Cross Care, confirmed that Grafton was one of 31 homes they ran at a deficit.

"Two-thirds of our services are located outside Sydney in regional locations, which often come with additional challenges due to the remoteness of some services," he said.

"We have always had a policy of cross-subsidising homes, recognising that some will always struggle to make a profit, however, the situation at present is one that must be managed prudently and effectively."

Mr McMahon said that tighter government funding was driving all aged care operators to run operations more efficiently and they were in a position where staffing could be rationalised without reducing care.

"Our original staffing ratios were established based on what was a projected level of occupancy and the anticipated level of care needs," he said.

"In many locations, these projections were not met - hence our higher than industry care and staffing ratios. Reductions in funding has made it imperative that we act now to safeguard our long-term sustainability."

Mr McMahon said there had been one redundancy at St Catherine's due to being unable to negotiate a suitable shift change, but many of the additional work duties had been absorbed into other roles.

"The reductions have included shortening morning and evening shifts slightly while maintaining staffing levels throughout peak times," he said.

"SCC have been focussed on creating minimal disruption and we sought to retain jobs where possible. We value our team in Grafton and thank them for their flexibility and dedication to our residents and families.

"We can safely reassure residents, families and the community of Grafton that with these changes in place we are still delivering more hours of care than the industry benchmark. Resident care and well-being are always our number one priority, and we will not compromise on the quality of our service."

Mr McMahon said that Southern Cross Care was keen to see government provide more support for services located in rural areas that faced highest costs together with skill shortages.

"We would also like to see appropriate levels of indexation applied to keep up with rising costs and to meet the needs of an older, frailer aged care population," he said.

Member for Page Kevin Hogan refuted the claims of funding cuts, saying that aged care funding in the Clarence Valley had increased by more than $18m annually.

"This includes an extra $2million per year for 36 new beds at the Whiddon Group in Grafton creating 100 jobs, an extra $3million per year for 50 new beds at Whiddon in Yamba, $9.4million per year for 114 new beds at Signature Care in Grafton, an extra $1.8million per year for 30 new beds at Whiddon in Maclean and an extra $2million per year for 20 new beds at Dougherty Villas in Grafton," he said.

Mr Hogan said these increases would provide more than 470 new permanent jobs in the Clarence Valley in aged care including nurses, cleaners, caterers, gardeners and maintenance positions.

"Any rostering decisions by the aged care operators is a matter for those operators," Mr Hogan said.



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