If members of the political panel were unsure of the challenges facing the residential aged care sector when they took the stage, they were certainly sure of them by the time they exited, thanks to facilitator Kim Hill and providers wanting answers.
In particular, the government’s immigration policy, that will see migrant care workers sent back to their home countries for a one year stand-down period after three years in New Zealand, left the cross-party panel scrambling for answers.
“At least 50 per cent of the panel has no idea what this policy will mean for this sector. It has been an educative session,” said Kim Hill wryly.
Andrew Joyce of St Andrews Village shared the story of one of his senior caregivers who has been on a one year rolling visa for over a decade despite having a Level 7 qualification and being a hugely valued employee at St Andrews. In three years’ time he has to leave his job and the life he has built in New Zealand. Joyce pointed out that it wasn’t just the caregiver who suffered as a result of the policy, but the residents under his care too.
The panel comprised National’s Simon O’Connor, the Greens’ Barry Coates, Labour’s Jenny Salesa, NZ First’s Fletcher Tabuteau and Māori Party’s Te Ururoa Flavell. Salesa, Tabuteau and Flavell seemed unsure of exactly how the new policy would affect providers in the residential aged care sector, who are openly struggling to recruit New Zealanders with the right skills and attitudes to fill caregiver roles.
O’Connor, who was familiar with the situation of Joyce’s caregiver, admitted that cases like these keep him awake at night. He indicated that ANZSCO was not fit for purpose and needed to be reviewed.
“So you’re saying your party’s policies are a crock,” swiped Hill.
No one was immune from Hill’s jibes and direct questioning on pay equity either.
The panelists were cautious about promising to fully fund the shortfall in pay equity funding and appeared confused between the pay equity legislation currently going through Parliament with the legislation that enabled the July 1st settlement agreement for care and support workers. Salesa and Tabuteau both indicated they would need to know more about the sector before committing to fully funding the shortfall. Salesa’s suggestion of establishing a pay equity commission was met with groans from the audience. Providers clearly wanted answers, not more layers of bureaucracy.
O’Connor continued the Associate Minister of Health’s earlier message for providers who find themselves struggling as a result of insufficient pay equity funding to take their concerns to their DHBs.
“Hammer hard on the DHBs,” he said.
O’Connor was the only one who indicated his party would be prepared to sell the unpopular message to the public that they might have to contribute financially towards their aged care in order to prop up insufficient government funding. The others baulked at the idea.
The panelists also shied away from confirming the suggestion that home-based care was preferred to residential aged care due to its cheaper cost of delivery.
All committed to seeing the sector funding review through, however.
Following the panel discussion, the feeling among providers was generally one of dismay that politicians appeared to have such a poor grip on the issues they were facing. Indeed most of their policy discussions focused on the parties’ wider ageing or health objectives rather than initiatives relevant to the residential aged care sector.