Privatised NSW Home Care service has big problems say clients

FED UP: Dawn Lhota with her son, Graham Roberts. Ms Lhota says the quality of Home Care has fallen away sharply since the service was privatised and taken over by Australian Unity. Photo: Marina Neil.

FED UP: Dawn Lhota with her son, Graham Roberts. Ms Lhota says the quality of Home Care has fallen away sharply since the service was privatised and taken over by Australian Unity. Photo: Marina Neil.

HUNTER clients of the privatised Home Care service say the quality of care has dropped dramatically since it was taken over by a “financial services, healthcare and retirement living company”, Australian Unity. 

Port Stephens MP Kate Washington, who has fielded a growing number of concerns from constituents and Home Care staff alike, says the Home Care privatisation has been a disaster.

Australian Unity told the Newcastle Herald that it accepted there had been problems with the way Home Care was being delivered, and these had been “compounded by a range of significant industry reforms” including the NDIS and changes to Home Care packages, that “occurred simultaneously, directly impacting the same clients and staff”.

But when the Herald sought a response from the new Disability Services Minister, Ray Williams, a departmental spokesperson said the department was “not aware of any complaints in relation to the quality of services provided by Australian Unity of the nature alleged”.

Mallabula woman Dawn Lhota’s 37-year-old son, Graham Roberts, is wheelchair-bound with a series of physical conditions including Friedreich’s ataxia, heart disease, insulin-dependent diabetes and scoliosis. Ms Lhota said Home Care had deteriorated dramatically since Australian Unity took over midway through last year.

“Home Care under the government wasn’t perfect, but it was very good,” Ms Lhota said.

“Under Australian Unity, it’s been appalling.

“Now, we are regularly rung by head office telling us at very short notice that there will be no carer available the next day for my son, that I will have to do it,” Ms Lhota said.

Ms Lhota said her son, being wheelchair-bound, needed help to get in and out of bed and for other things, including his “Epipen” insulin injections.

“He has an NDIS plan, he has the funding to cover all of this, but they keep ringing to say they can’t get the staff,” Ms Lhota said. “They say, you’ll have to do it. When Home Care was government owned I went to visit my son, not to care for him.”

Another family upset with Australian Unity’s management of Home Care listed at least nine occasions since August last year when staff had not turned up as rostered, with no explanation given.

“Australian Unity has no head office person to complain too, you only get a call centre,” this family said.

Ms Washington said clients and workers were both “at breaking point” over what was happening.

“Since the privatisation, clients have experienced great difficulty accessing the services they once had. And there appears to be no accountability whatsoever – nowhere to complain and no oversight,” Ms Washington said.

“While ‘teething problems’ were anticipated by everyone, things are getting worse for both the clients and workers to the point where people’s lives are at risk. The government tries to justify its decisions to privatise public assets and social services, but time and time again, we see that it makes people’s lives harder.”

Australian Unity executive general manager of home and disability services, Cameron Holland, said the Home Care transfer was “a project of significant scale, involving the transfer of records, rosters and personal preferences of more than 50,000 clients and 4000 staff”. The transfer was 60 per cent complete.

“As with any transformation and integration of such a large scale, there are teething problems as we move between systems and new ways of working,” Mr Holland said.

“Our staff have been working hard to ensure services are delivered safely and effectively through this significant period of change and market disruption.

“Regrettably, there have been some isolated issues with the rostering of client services resulting in some missed services and billing errors. We have addressed these specific issues quickly and directly with staff and clients and we have made consequential changes to the way we roster services.”

Asked how services were monitored, Mr Holland said staff had “smart mobile devices” to “track actual client visits and create an audit trail for each visit and rostered service they provide”. 

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