Hundreds of younger people with disability still living in nursing homes as deadlines approach

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Posted 3 months ago by Anna Christian

At the end of September last year there were 3,676 Australians under 65 years old living in permanent residential aged care. [Source: Shutterstock]
At the end of September last year there were 3,676 Australians under 65 years old living in permanent residential aged care. [Source: Shutterstock]

A newly released report shows the Government is still short of its target to have no one younger than 45 living in nursing homes, and no one younger than 65 entering aged care homes, by 2022.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) Younger people in residential aged care report, released today, shows improvements towards the targets but also shows there is still more work to be done.

The report found that at the end of September last year there were 3,676 Australians under 65 years old living in permanent residential aged care, 91 of whom were under the age of 45.

The Government's own targets set out in the Younger People in Residential Aged Care Strategy 2020-2025 (announced in September 2020) are:

  • no people under the age of 65 entering residential aged care by 2022
  • no people under the age of 45 living in residential aged care by 2022
  • no people under the age of 65 living in residential aged care by 2025

The targets are aimed at people under 65 because they are still eligible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), whereas those who are 65 and older with disability and do not have NDIS funding cannot use the scheme to be supported to live in the community.

While there is still a way to go, the number of younger people with disability living in nursing homes, and entering aged care in the first place, is decreasing.

There was a 20 percent decline of the total number of people under 65 in this situation in September compared to the year before, and the number of people under 45 experienced a 25 percent decrease over the year.

From July to September, 2021, 151 people under the age of 65 were admitted into permanent residential aged care - a 30 percent decrease from the same period in

2020.

A spokesperson for NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds says the Minister and the Federal Government are “deeply committed” to supporting younger people to live in the accommodation that is most appropriate for them with the supports they need.

“One of Minister Reynolds’ first priorities after election as a Senator in 2014 was to initiate a Senate Inquiry to start fixing this issue because no younger Australian with disability should be forced to live in aged care because there is no alternative,” the spokesperson says.

“This Government has seen a significant reduction in younger people living in aged care.

“Since December 2017, there has been a 36 percent decrease in younger people living in aged care and a 69 percent decrease in younger people entering residential aged care. In the last 12 months alone, we’ve seen a 24 percent decrease in people aged under 45 living in residential aged care.”

However, the AIHW report notes that people who turn 65 while living in aged care are no longer counted in the data and that COVID-19 may have had an impact on admissions into aged care, so both of these factors could have an impact on the figures.

Other notes about the data which don’t support the Government’s progress towards targets are that 817 younger people ‘exited’ from aged care between 1 October, 2020, and 30 September, 2021, but 570 of those people were recorded as having exited because they passed away.

Amelia Condi, Head of Government Relations and Policy at the Summer Foundation - a not-for-profit committed to resolving the issue of young people living in aged care - explains that while figures might appear to show progress, the breakdown of the figures in fact shows failures.

“In quarter one of 2021/22, 151 younger people were admitted to residential aged care and 189 exited,” Ms Condi says.

“However, 138 of the exits were younger people who sadly passed away. This is not success or an adequate response to supporting younger people in aged care.”

The Summer Foundation says the Federal Government will not achieve its 2022 or 2025 targets unless:

  • The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA, which runs the NDIS) steps up and matches the efficiency of the aged care system in the timely allocation of funding for housing and support
  • There is investment in better hospital discharge for people with severe disability

Ms Condi says timely and accurate decisions need to be made by the NDIA within three days, as they are in the aged care system.

The NDIA regularly takes 60 days to make decisions about NDIS plans, but decisions about the type of housing many younger people in aged care need - Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) - can take much longer.

“Timely and accurate decisions for SDA and housing related supports are essential to ensure younger people are able to access the housing options which are available to them,” Ms Condi says.

“There are currently 800 newly built SDA houses sitting vacant, which would be used to support people out of and away from aged care.

“There are approximately 50 people entering aged care each month. Preventing new admissions now is the only way that the targets will be achieved. Actively supporting younger people to understand the housing options available to them and supporting them to apply for and access the appropriate funding through the NDIA is critical.”

Minister Reynolds’ spokesperson acknowledges that there is more work to be done to support the thousands of younger people still living in aged care, saying that the Government has recognised this need for support through funding.

“In December last year, the Government announced an additional $35 million investment to further support efforts to reduce the number of younger people living in residential aged care, which included $18.9 million for additional NDIA staff to help younger NDIS participants, their families, carers and support coordinators to explore reasonable and necessary supports to meet their home and living goals,” the spokesperson says.

The AIHW will continue to report regularly on progress towards the Younger People in Residential Aged Care Strategy targets.

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