In a surprise decision, Hepburn Shire has made an in principle decision to stop providing aged care services. The decision was made in the Council’s confidential ‘in camera’ session on Tuesday night.

This means new aged care providers will have to be found for 340 Hepburn Shire residents and 18 staff are likely to lose their jobs. Council wants to find a new provider by February/March 2022 when a final decision will be made. Any new provider has to be approved by the Commonwealth Government.

Council CEO Bradley Thomas said there will be a period of consultation and discussion with staff and residents to try to find new service providers. There may be opportunities for staff to be redeployed within Council or to take up positions with a new provider. But there are no guarantees.

Council currently provides 11,000 hours of home care, including domestic, personal and community support to older people in the community. Many of these people could not continue to live at home if this support was not provided.

These services are funded through the Commonwealth Government’s Home Support Program and Home Care Packages. The Council tops these funds up with $580,000 of additional funding.

The Home Support Program provides entry level home support like cleaning, gardening, meals, transport and basic personal care. Home Care packages are for people who need more intensive and complex care including nursing and allied health. The highest level packages provide up to $52,000 of care per year, but there are long waiting times to get these packages.

Home care supports people to live in the community and prevents them having to go into residential care. Overwhelmingly, people want to live at home and very few people want to go into a nursing home.

The recent Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety showed huge problems with the quality and safety of nursing homes. It also found that the Commonwealth has made home care hard to get, inefficient and badly organised.

In response, the Commonwealth is dramatically expanding and rearranging home care. It is likely this will see a dramatic expansion of private and non-government home care.

In Victoria, many Councils, including Hepburn have added money to the funds provided by the Commonwealth to give residents a better service. But a number are now withdrawing.

Hepburn Council has been a long-term provider of aged and disability services for the community.

Mayor, Cr Tim Drylie, said that Council will ensure that the interests of clients, families and carers, staff and the community are central to the process of investigating the cessation of service delivery.

“We have a proud history of delivering services to many vulnerable members of our community. However, significant and continuing reforms by the Commonwealth Government means that Council is now best positioned to transition from being a service provider,” said Cr Drylie.

While CEO Bradley Thomas said the decision is not based on financial considerations there has been no community consultation on the decision and an alternative provider has not been identified. Information on the immediate changes has been provided on the Council website. But it is not clear what the impact of the the Council’s in principle decision will be on the long term future of aged care services for residents.