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‘More to do’ on ethnic issues

Despite significant inroads having been made in recognising diversity, increasing the responsiveness of aged care policies and empowering culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, the fight is not over, Mary Patetsos tells AAA.

While a range of governments have demonstrated a commitment to CALD ageing issues over the past 20 years, Mary Patetsos, chair of the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA)’s healthy ageing reference committee, says the difficulty has been attaching sufficient funding to that commitment.

“Resourcing is a challenge and will continue to be,” she tells Australian Ageing Agenda.

Mary Patetsos

Mary Patetsos

Patetsos says that, like dementia or mental illness, there should be recognition that culture and language is an additional complexity in someone’s care and aged care providers should be appropriately resourced to meet those needs.

“The reality is that servicing CALD older Australians is more time-intensive and requires some additional services like interpreters or translators, or more time spent ensuring staff adequately match the needs of the older person,” she says.

“An additional amount above what service agencies get anyway would pay for those services that are beyond the norm and would give CALD older people some dignity in asking for that [culturally responsive care] to occur… There is also certainty about the requirement because it is recognised. That would be very useful.”

Patetsos says the job of evaluating the progress made by providers in delivering culturally sensitive and responsive services would also made easier if dollars were attached to that recognition.

More than 600,000 people, or approximately 20 per cent of people aged over 65 years, were born outside Australia. By 2021, this number will jump to 30 per cent, making up a large segment of the consumer market for aged services.

In June 2014, over 43,000 people from CALD backgrounds were in residential care and in receipt of a home care package. However, it is widely recognised that CALD seniors under-utilise many aged care services such as home support where they only made up 18 per cent of Commonwealth Home and Community Care (HACC) clients.

Progress on CALD strategy

In December 2012, the then Labor federal government released a landmark five-year CALD ageing and aged care strategy, developed in assistance with FECCA, which outlined a range of strategic targets to promote equitable access to aged care services, and to ensure services are culturally sensitive.

When asked to assess the impact of the government’s strategy, Patetsos acknowledges further work is required to focus more closely on “the mechanics” of the strategy’s implementation.

“The next step is a much more focused document,” she says, to identify the practical steps required to achieve the intended goals and actions.

FECCA is undertaking work to crosscheck progress against the strategy, she says.

Among the comprehensive set of actions contained in the strategy is a commitment to ensuring My Aged Care delivers culturally and linguistically appropriate services; to improve and expand the coverage of translation and interpreting services throughout the aged care system; ensure that the Aged Care Complaints Scheme is promoted to CALD communities, and to facilitate the employment of appropriate bilingual staff in the system.

In the government’s annual operation of the Aged Care Act report, the department points to the funding of Partners in Culturally Appropriate Care (PICAC) organisations and ACSIHAG grants targeting the needs of people from CALD backgrounds grants as core achievements in this area.

Reform priorities

Patetsos, who is also a board director of ACH Group in South Australia and a member of the Aged Care Financing Authority (ACFA), says CALD seniors require extra support in the transition to My Aged Care and CDC. She says the role of intermediaries, to provide advice and support to older people, should also be explored.

Patetsos has drawn attention to the inequities that are created for non-English speaking home care clients where interpreting and translation costs must be taken out of a person’s individual budget, thereby diminishing the value of their care package for direct care services relative to other clients.

In the move to a more market-driven aged care system, Patetsos says ensuring adequate protections for the most vulnerable will be an important priority to ensure that a two-tiered aged care system does not emerge.

“What would be the worst outcome is if there’s selectivity along the way, so some providers pick the ones that they want and some people are left behind. The market should protect the most vulnerable and there is a role for government in making sure that that happens.”

An extended version of this interview appears in the current issue of AAA magazine (Nov-Dec 2015).

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