Towards equity in aged care for regional, rural and remote Australia

  • Older couple holding hands graphic and outback landscape photo
By
Kathy Bell
Australian Association of Gerontology
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The challenges to access and equity in rural and remote aged care have been well documented. 

The Australian Association of Gerontology (AAG) is keen to engage with researchers, aged care providers, health professionals, and consumer advocates to generate ideas about how to improve equity of access to aged care services and to achieve better outcomes for older people in regional, rural, and remote Australia.

AAG’s purpose is to improve the experience of ageing by connecting evidence, policy, and practice. Its growing membership base consists of 1,200 researchers, aged care and health practitioners and other experts in ageing. 

One of the AAG’s major areas of interest is working to improve the experience of ageing in regional, rural and remote Australia.

Australia’s regional, rural and remote areas have higher proportions of older people than do the capital cities. Research also shows that older people in regional, rural and remote areas have lower incomes, lower education levels, higher levels of disability, and poorer housing, all of which contribute to higher need for aged care support. In addition, many areas have higher proportions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people among their populations. Due to poorer health status and premature ageing, Indigenous Australians may need access to aged care services at younger ages, and cultural safety is vital.

All of this means that the need for aged care services is higher in regional, rural, and remote Australia. Yet paradoxically, aged care service providers are often thin on the ground in these areas, and per capita use of aged care places is much lower outside major cities.

Providers in rural and remote areas –  mostly not-for-profit and government services – face extra challenges particularly in delivering residential care, with higher cost pressures and lower profitability.  Challenges include the ability to attract and retain staff, high travel and freight costs, poor internet coverage, and limited catchment populations meaning smaller scale operations.

Older people and their carers in these areas are often unable to access the care and support they need. Some older people are forced to leave their communities to access care. Rural consumers often face limited if any choice of service provider, lack of information about options, and difficulties relating to the cost of services. 

To enable people to age in place, services should be available where they are needed, and they should be affordable, appropriate, responsive, and sensitive to people’s needs. Achieving this can be particularly challenging in rural and remote areas.

How can these challenges be addressed? What new approaches or innovative models of care might help improve equity of access and outcomes?

The Federal Government is currently working with national experts and consumer groups to develop a new Diversity Framework to guide aged care provision, with a strong focus on equity of access and outcomes.  The Framework is due to be launched later this year, after which action plans will be developed.

In this context, AAG is holding a workshop on 7 November alongside our national conference in Perth, to contribute to the development of an action plan to guide equity of access and outcomes for older people in regional, rural and remote Australia. The workshop aims to identify current barriers and innovations in aged care provision in regional, rural and remote Australia, consider how evidence can inform policy and practice, and identify any gaps.

The workshop will be hosted by AAG’s Rural, Regional and Remote Special Interest Group, in partnership with the National Rural Health Alliance and Services for Australian Rural and Remote Allied Health (SARRAH).

The workshop is free.  To find out more or to register, visit www.aagconference.asn.au.

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