EDITORIAL: Hunter disability group Lifestyle Solutions and Four Corners

MONDAY night’s edition of Four Corners – titled Fighting the System – took a critical look at the way that Hunter-based Lifestyle Solutions and other organisations have handled their responsibilities in caring for people with disability.

In its investigation, Four Corners has highlighted the deaths of five people in the care of Lifestyle Solutions; four of them from the Hunter. It has also spoken to various people unhappy with how their family members have been cared for – the same sort of concerns that the Newcastle Herald has raised in recent years.

Although the evidence obtained by Four Corners is troubling in the extreme, the problems at Lifestyle Solutions need to be seen in the broader context of the massive national shakeup that has been triggered by the adoption of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Promoted as a revolution in disability funding, the NDIS has indeed given people with disability a degree of choice in how they receive disability services. But its biggest impact probably lies with the decisions taken by NSW and most other state and territory governments to dismantle their disability and home care departments as part of their negotiations with Canberra to build this new federally administered model.

This is not to say that the private sector is not capable of good care. Indeed, many of the private agencies that comprise this sector had their beginnings as small organisations formed by the families of the people needing care.

But as the Four Corners investigation and recent Herald articles about shortcomings in disability care bear out, there are real concerns that the sector is growing so quickly that it is difficult to keep checks and balances in place. Lifestyle Solutions, for example, has gone from revenues of less than $10 million a decade ago to $124 million last year, almost all of it from governments.

The NDIS’s likely annual costs have gone from $22 billion to almost $30 billion a year, and almost all of it will be spent with organisations such as Lifestyle Solutions.

With new care organisations being registered seemingly every day – and with government backup disappearing just as quickly – this is a crucial time for those organisations electing to look after some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society. Unfortunately, good intentions do not always guarantee good outcomes.

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