Who is pulling the strings?

How many of us know who actually owns the aged-care homes where our frail, older friends and relatives live?

Often there is a web of complex structures behind the day-to-day management of the facility. It is hard to know just who is responsible.

Who is accountable when things go wrong? Who is actually pulling the strings? Who is ordering the damaging cost-cutting?

When the Bridgewater facility in Roxburgh Park in Victoria closed, the administrator from PricewaterhouseCoopers stated that, a sale required the agreement of 45 separate parties under a strata title arrangement. Presumably not all of these were parties were significant in regard to how the home functioned or its total economic viability. But it gives some indication of the complexity of the arrangements behind much of our nursing home care.

Just last week, it was reported that AMP Capital Investors subsidiary, Principal Healthcare Group (PHG) has decided to acquire 25 per cent of Victorian operator, Blue Cross. Again, this raises many questions.

How will this affect the running of Blue Cross facilities? Will PHG be calling any of the shots in terms of funding and expenses? What responsibility does a company which owns 25 per cent of the business have to the vulnerable residents? How suitable is such an owner/investor to be responsible for the care for our frail elders?

Perhaps the most significant issue is whether the people in the shadows behind some failed aged-care enterprises end up are pulling the strings in yet another. And how would we know!

Earlier this month, Minister for Ageing, Justine Elliot, proposed legislative changes aimed at protecting accommodation bonds. She also proposed ….expanding the range of people who are “key personnel” to include those pulling the financial strings so there is greater scrutiny and transparency on who is exercising control over an aged care home. This will prevent a provider with a poor quality record re-appearing behind a front entity or a shelf company from avoiding scrutiny;

‘Expanding the range of key personnel’ is a modest goal and it is hoped that this will be achieved. But more must be done.

Surely the complete ownership structure of all entities involved in the provision of aged care should be openly available – not only to government bureaucrats but to all of us.

Before giving over the responsibility for the care of our mothers and fathers and spouses to an aged-care facility, we ought to know exactly who is pulling the strings, and how.

And furthermore, we should consider if this is the way we really want aged care funded in this country.