The aged-care watchdog has called for greater transparency from nursing-home providers about complaints and disputes.
Rae Lamb, the aged care complaints commissioner, said privacy and legislative restrictions limited her ability to reveal how specific service providers handled complaints.
Ms Lamb said a consumer “revolution” was sweeping the multi-billion sector, but providers were yet to act.
“I can’t say too much about that because it involves protected information; I can’t identify providers,” she said.
Ms Lamb will instead urge providers to “say a lot more about the complaints they get and how they handled them”.
“It is time to be proactive and bring these things into the sunlight,” she said.
“At the moment, we are in the environment where people are being given a lot more control over their care, but to make good choices, people need more information.”
The government-funded aged-care industry includes both residential facilities and community-based services.
Ms Lamb said nursing home providers needed to provide more information about disputes and complaints to allow consumers to make informed choices.
Providers should detail the number and types of complaints they received and how they were resolved, both on their websites and at actual facilities, she said.
She also urged consumers to demand more information from providers.
“I want to see some people [service providers] actually do it,” she said.
“My message to consumers is ‘just ask!’ Ask them about complaints. If a service will not answer the question, that tells you about the culture of the service.”
Ms Lamb, who is responsible for receiving and resolving complaints, said most complaints in residential care came from family members.
But she warned many people remained fearful of speaking out due to concerns it could exacerbate any tensions between a vulnerable aged client and a provider.
She said the 4500 complaints her office received in a year was a relatively small number given the 1.3 million people receiving care. She assumed many complaints were never reaching her office.
Still, she said her office was receiving “more and more complaints” about home-care services.
In February, home-care was deregulated, opening up the sector a number of new, for-profit providers.
Ms Lamb said most home-care complaints involve concerns about things like administration or case management costs, or just charges generally, and the clarity of financial statements.
In the residential aged-care sector, formerly known as nursing homes, most complaints involved standards of care and financial disputes.
“The financial stuff is wide-ranging. It is not just about the financial charges and additional fees,” Ms Lamb said.
Perceived failures in consultation and communication, food and personal care also featured prominently.
The ongoing shake up in aged care, which involves consolidation of a cottage industry by larger, often for-profit providers, meant that “relationships between providers and consumers are changing and power balances are changing”.
“That is why people need to get more information. It is about ensuring people are well informed and able to make choices.”
“I’m essentially issuing a challenge to sector.”
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