22/12/2016 2:08 PM AEDT | Updated 23/12/2016 2:45 AM AEDT

Young People Don't Belong In Aged-Care Facilities

It doesn't need to be this way.

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As we prepare to spend Christmas with our family and friends, I ask all Australians to consider the plight of 6,200 younger people who will spend the holiday living in an aged-care facility rather than at home with their loved ones. A distressing situation, which need not be this way.

Almost half of these younger residents are under the age of 59, and sadly, some are as young as 18. In my home state, over 500 Western Australians are inappropriately housed in these facilities. A stroke, an accident, or a degenerative disease could leave any of us, or our family and friends, consigned indefinitely to life in an aged-care facility.

Aged-care facilities are designed for the specific requirements of older Australians, with an average age of 85. While they provide basic shelter and care, they cannot provide the individualised multidisciplinary health and rehabilitation support required by younger people long-term -- never mind the quality of life young Australians aspire to.

Research into the matter is clear -- young people who live long-term in aged care facilities experience declining emotional, physical and mental health. But no one needs the research to tell us that.

This is why the first inquiry I sponsored as a Senator was into the plight of younger Australians with disabilities living in aged care. In June last year, the committee made a series of recommendations, which we believed will provide an interim solution for the next few years as the NDIS rolled out nationally. This would ensure everyone who wanted and needed to relocate out of aged-care facilities could do so with the health, rehabilitation and disability support they require and into a home that meets their needs.

What many people may not realise is that there is also a financial burden placed on young people and their families when they're forced to live in aged-care facilities. Young people in nursing homes are subject to the same income and assets assessments relating to government assistance as other elderly residents. This can mean that a young person is up to $1,000 worse off per fortnight than if they were part of the NDIS.

Sadly, some individuals decide the only way forward for them to afford the care they need is to divorce their partner. Others decide they have to sell the family home, which can result in them having no home to return to and never being able to leave aged care.

The NDIS was created to solve problems like this by better meeting the long-term needs of people with a disability, their families and carers. The Government put an additional $10 billion per year into the scheme to support exactly this group of people. Despite this, young people in nursing homes are not yet prioritised by the States or Territories in the NDIS roll out. An unacceptable situation given there are enough places in the NDIS to allow all young people in aged care to enter the scheme.

The Summer Foundation's work with young people in nursing homes in NSW and Victoria showed that 98 percent of the young people they worked with were eligible for the NDIS. Yet after two years of the NDIS being available in the trial sites, hardly any young people in aged care had entered it.

I recently wrote to Ministers Porter and Prentice seeking a speedy government response to the inquiry and also recommending a five-point course of action.

  1. First, we must reduce the bureaucratic hurdles required to enter the NDIS.
  2. Young people in nursing homes must be among the first participants in the NDIS roll out.
  3. Aged-care providers must be better prepared to move their young residents into the NDIS, which can be done through an information campaign and provider workshops.
  4. There needs to be a one-off initiative to fully connect all young people in nursing homes to the scheme.
  5. Lastly, we must stop the pipeline of entry from the hospital straight to aged care.

I get the feeling from Federal and State departments that it is all too hard and the easiest option is to make them all wait for a few more years until they eventually get into the NDIS.

Well, I am sorry but it is not too hard, and it is simply the right thing to do. We know who these Australians are, we know what their needs are and we know that over 98 percent of them will eventually be eligible under the NDIS. It is time for the NDIA, State and Federal Governments to act now and prioritise this group of Australians who have been treated so egregiously.

What better Christmas present could we provide for these 6,200 younger Australians than the certainty that they will not have to spend another year in a nursing home?