‘Disgrace’: Aussies slugged with COVID cost



War widows and elderly people receiving in-home care across Victoria and NSW are being slugged with extra fees for personal protective equipment in what Labor has called an "utter disgrace".

The aged care watchdog is now investigating the additional charges, after NCA NewsWire raised the issue with Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck.

Prestige Inhome Care confirmed it began temporarily charging clients $2.65 a shift this month for surgical masks, goggles and face shields.

Opposition veterans affairs spokesman Richard Marles said leaving a war widow to stump up for PPE during a pandemic that had claimed more than 600 lives in aged care was an "utter disgrace".

"Scott Morrison is meant to be funding our aged care sector to keep older Australian safe, yet we learn that he is instead forcing war widows to pay out of pocket costs for PPE," he said.

"The Federal Government is responsible for the funding and the regulation of our aged care sector and its infection control, and yet we hear news of additional costs, which only creates greater anxiety for our older Australians."

Prestige chief executive Nick McDonald said the company, which has nearly 600 staff and 2200 clients across both states, was not being "money hungry".

"It couldn't be further from the truth," he said.

He said the cost incurred for PPE was "at least double" the $2.65 per shift, but the company was only passing on the cost of equipment used during a visit.

In Victoria, health care workers are required to wear surgical masks, eye protection and face shields where practical.

"In a perfect world, it would be great if the government made those rules, gave you the equipment you need to comply and funded it themselves," he said.

"At this stage, they've just said 'you have to use it, get it yourself and pay for it yourself'."

Mr McDonald said the company had spent more than $70,000 on masks alone since July without any support.

National Disability Insurance Scheme participants are exempt from the $2.65 fee because providers are given a subsidy for the increased costs.

People on home care packages also received an extra 1.2 per cent in funding - or $1.68 extra a day for high level packages - due to the impacts from COVID-19 in the five months to August.

But Mr McDonald said the money did not go to the providers, prompting them to share the burden.

A letter addressed to clients about the fee reads: "Whilst the government has stated that aged and disability care providers can access PPE from the national stockpile, access is only granted in the event you have a confirmed case of COVID-19 and the provider has no other means of sourcing PPE."

Mr McDonald said the company was able to access some masks after one staff member, who had not visited clients that fortnight, tested positive for coronavirus.

But he said they were "nowhere near enough".

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck was forced to apologise last month for not knowing the aged care death toll when asked during an inquiry. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage
Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck was forced to apologise last month for not knowing the aged care death toll when asked during an inquiry. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage

Mr Colbeck said he had referred the matter to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.

"A home care provider should not charge the cost of PPE as a separate service from a client's home care package," he said.

"It should be incorporated into the price charged by a provider for delivering a service."

He said the price of care and support services must be done with the informed consent of each individual client and cannot be varied through a "generic letter".

Sean Rooney, the chief executive of the industry body Leading Age Services Australia, said home care providers had reported extra infection control procedures and workforce support had placed "unbudgeted demands" on their services.

He said the government had provided extra support from March to August to cover COVID-related expenses but "continued support has not been forthcoming".

LASA has called on the government to give allocate home care providers $5 per care recipient a day to cover the extra costs until February.

People concerned about the cost of their care can contact the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission on 1800 951 822.

Originally published as 'Disgrace': Aussies slugged with COVID cost