It’s hard to believe anyone could be grateful for having a stroke. But Colleen Fagan is.
Without it, she would never have learned about Home Care Packages (HCPs), which have allowed her and her mother, Lorna, to remain living together in their Moama home.
HCPs are government-funded packages of care services designed to help older people remain living at home for longer.
Lorna is 95. Though fiercely independent and in relatively good health, her age has predictably slowed her down. She relies on her daughter Colleen, 63, as her full-time carer. It’s a role Colleen has embraced – though it elicited much fear when she suffered a stroke two years ago.
“I was really worried because Mum couldn’t have lived here on her own and of course she doesn’t want to go into aged care.”
Lorna says: “I started to panic as I didn’t know what I was going to do. I really want to stay home for as long as possible.”
A local nurse told the mother and daughter about non-profit organisation Villa Maria Catholic Homes (VMCH), which provides 1,300 HCPs to older people across Victoria.
“I thank God for the stroke to be honest because otherwise we never would have found out about the help available,” Colleen said.
Lorna is on a level three HCP and receives support with meals, home maintenance and gardening, taxi and fuel cards, occupational therapy and equipment, under the guidance of her HCP Case Manager, Natasha Crimmins.
“The package took all the stress and worry away from me…I couldn’t speak highly enough of it.”
For Colleen, the in-home respite is important. “When I’ve had to stay in the hospital overnight, Natasha has organised someone to come and stay with mum, it’s a godsend.”
Unfortunately, the number of older Australians waiting for HCP funding is high. Figures from January to March 2018 reveal the number sits at around 108,000 people waiting for care of an appropriate level.
Data also shows 77,918 older Australians received home care packages in 2017, an increase of 9261 on the previous year.
They also show that people are waiting 12 months or more for high-level packages and three to nine months for a lower-level package.
Clearly, the demand is huge.
VMCH CEO Sonya Smart says the need for more funding is clear.
“We urge the Federal Government to make the availability of packages a priority for older Australians. Ensuring people remain living at home – where they want to be – gives them choice and control and reduces premature and unnecessary entry to residential care.”
Colleen has found knowledge of HCPs is virtually non-existent in her social circles.
“I have told people about it since and they’d never heard of them either. It should be advertised more and the waiting list should be cut. We were lucky and got in at the right time… but if people are waiting two years, within that time health can deteriorate and they might have to go into permanent care. It’s so much nicer if you can stay at home. I do believe (HCPs) are the best thing that can happen for older Australians, that’s for sure”.