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Aged care must seek out more innovative models of care to prepare for a “rising tide” of baby boomers that could see the number of people living in nursing homes increase by 150,000 by 2040, according to Federal Aged Care Minister Anika Wells.

Speaking at this week’s Economic and Social Outlook Conference in Melbourne, Minister Wells said estimates suggest demand for high levels of care, including residential care, will surge by 5-9% each year as the boomers age.

Forecasting baby boomers as “the greatest impact on aged care this century”, Ms Wells argued the sector needs to seek innovative models of care, including embracing creativity, technology and international best practice, in order to give the cohort the level of care they expect and deserve.

“We are at the precipice of the next great test of our aged care system – the Boomer generation,” Ms Wells said.

“They have told us loud and clear that they want to stay in their homes as long as possible. At a certain point, some will have to look to residential aged care – and they will expect a level of care they have worked hard over a lifetime to secure. A level of care they have earned.”

In her address, Ms Wells shared how she worked in aged care in her early 20s, “pushing the tea trolley around after my uni lectures”, choosing the job because her mum also worked in the nursing home.

“I vividly remember mum struggling to manage the roster, not having enough workers to cover shifts… unfortunately the workforce situation has only worsened,” she said.

Aged care, in many cases, has stagnated, Ms Wells explained, with the road to reform kick-started by the new Labor Government demanding innovative must thrive.

Some examples include retirement living mixed with home care services, apartments and aged care facilities; a small house model with visual cues making it easier for dementia residents to navigate; and a village model that includes a pub, restaurant, theatre and supermarket.

“As a government we have our ideas, informed by an expert public service, but there is great potential to contribute to innovative change among providers and frontline care workers,” Ms Wells said.

The Minister reiterated Labor’s plans to restore quality, dignity and respect to aged care, pointing to RN 24/7 legislation passed into law last week, a commitment to fund the outcome of the Fair Work Commission’s decision on pay rises for aged care workers, and a $3.9 billion investment for aged care in the recently announced 2022/23 Budget, as evidence of action.

“We must and we will do more,” Ms Wells concluded.

“We are on a global search for innovation, which starts right here in this room. The challenge is before us – the Albanese Government is working alongside older Australians, the aged care sector, our care workforce and the Australian people – you. We must design new aged care architecture together because as baby boomers age, our challenge will become greater.”