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The Victorian government has pledged $40 million to help cover the cost of introducing minimum staff-to-resident ratios in private aged care as long as the Commonwealth government – the primary regulator and funder of the sector – also comes to the table.

The commitment was announced as part of the 2020-2021 state budget, released yesterday.

Describing the proposal as an ‘Australian first’, the Victorian government said the introduction of staff to resident ratios in private and not-for-profit aged care facilities would vastly improve the quality of care and bring them into line with the state’s public aged care sector.

Victoria was the first state in the country to implement nurse-to-resident ratios in its public sector residential aged care homes, with the reforms ensuring residents receive the best care possible.

“Ratios are vital in our public aged care system, and we want the Commonwealth to join us in making sure they exist in every single facility in Victoria,” said Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers, Luke Donnellan, in a statement.

“We’re continuing to modernise and upgrade public residential aged care services right across our state – because we know it means keeping staff and residents safe.”

The budget commitment prompted the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF Victorian Branch) to call for state and territory governments to take over residential aged care to ensure ‘nursing homes are truly integrated with their own public and private health services’.

“The brutal lessons of COVID-19 tell us Victorians need one integrated health system,” ANMF (Victorian Branch) Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said.

The union and its members have long campaigned to address systemic understaffing in private aged care. It is urging the federal government to follow the Victorian government’s lead and support the funding of mandated, minimum nursing levels to care for residents, before handing an appropriately funded system over to states and territories to run.

Victoria has 612 private aged care homes, including 284 not-for-profit and 328 private for-profit facilities. There is 156 public residential aged care facilities and aged care wards (5,609 beds).

According to the union, there have been 655 COVID-19 related deaths in Victorian private residential aged care, a sector regulated by the federal government which has no law mandating the minimum number of nurses or carers rostered on each shift.

Conversely, just three residents contracted COVID-19 across Victoria’s state-run aged care facilities, with no deaths. The state-run facilities have legislated ratios of one nurse to seven residents, plus a nurse in charge, in the morning, one nurse to eight residents, plus a nurse in charge, in the evening, and one nurse to 15 residents overnight.

“Market forces have failed private aged care residents so the ANMF welcomes the Andrews government’s continued investment in public aged care with $134.6 million for a dementia-friendly, 150-bed residential aged care facility attached to Monash Health. Another $900,000 will be spent on the designing and planning of a 90-bed public care facility in Coburg,” the union said in a statement.