A HORSHAM woman is urging people to "help protect" the municipality's aged care and disability services.
Penny Flynn has started a petition calling for Horsham Rural City Council to continue providing age care and disability services to elderly and vulnerable residents.
It comes after the council announced on February 3 that it was proposing to withdraw from delivering these services.
Council will now undertake an expression of interest process to find a suitable provider to deliver services including home care, respite, personal care, meals on wheels and social support.
The council's chief executive Sunil Bhalla estimated the services cost the council about $300,000 a year for about 500 clients.
He said the council would continue to provide the services while the program's future was worked out.
Miss Flynn's online petition has 238 signatures as of February 13. She is aiming for 300.
She said council "must not outsource" the services.
"We can't forget about our older community members. They deserve to be cared for and looked after. Some are not fortunate to have family or friends to advocate on their behalf," she said.
"The aim of home and community care services like Meals on Wheels, assistance with showering, shopping and cleaning is to keep the older members of our community in their own home and out of aged care facilities.
"Many other councils throughout Victoria have privatised and outsource these services. Those who deliver these services are some of the lowest paid workers predominately female workers. We as a community cannot afford for these services to be privatised."
Ms Flynn said her parents, in their mid-60s, planned to use the council's aged care services in the future.
"They are adamant they don't want to go into aged care. If I had a family member who needed these services, I would choose to use council's services," she said.
"We know there are better health outcomes for people who stay at home than those who are in aged care facilities. By having a consistency in care there is an understanding of an individual's needs.
"We have an aging population and I can't understand how removing these services from being provided by council is a good idea. As a ratepayer, my rates are much more beneficial being used to support the elderly than paying out staff entitlements and redundancies."
She said people could sign her petition by heading to www.megaphone.org.au/petitions/protect-our-aged-and-disability-services. She plans to present the petition to the council at a later date.
Horsham council provides a range of services to support and assist the frail, aged people with moderate disabilities, and their carers, to remain living independently in their homes, as part of the Commonwealth Home Support Program.
The program, launched in July 2015, funds meals on wheels, respite care, nursing and help with hygiene and chores among other services. It is funded until June 2022.
To be eligible, people must be 65 years or older, 50 or older if an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, or 50 years or older and on a low income, homeless, or at risk of being homeless.
There are several private providers of the Commonwealth Home Support Programme in Horsham, including Wimmera Community Options.
Council, federal member respond
HORSHAM council's chief executive Sunil Bhalla said the council would continue to provide services while a suitable provider was found, and continue to provide them if that was not possible.
"We will look at what staff can transition to the new provider. Our preference is to get someone local. But even if not, they would still be keen to hire local people," he said.
Horsham Council's Community Wellbeing Director Kevin O'Brien said Victoria was the only state where the Commonwealth Home Support Program was still being delivered by local government.
"The resolution on January 28 was that the council offered in-principle support to go to market to look for suitable providers. Once that happens, and if one is found, a report will go back to the council," he said.
"The commonwealth would put out tenders for the aged care and disability services ultimately (after June 2022), and it could go to someone outside the region."
The council employs 30 staff part-time, or for 15 to 20 hours a week, under its aged care and disability services.
"There are other providers of aged care and disability services in Horsham to council - at least six or eight. Simply Helping is one of them," he said.
"We can't influence the expression of interest process by wording up local agencies."
He said the expression of interest process was being finalised with federal and state governments. It is expected to start in March with a report due before the council in August.
The Mail-Times contacted the office of Member for Mallee Anne Webster for comment. A department spokesperson provided the following response:
"The federal government announced the extension of funding arrangements for the Commonwealth Home Support Programme July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2022 as part of the 2019-20 federal budget," the spokesperson said.
"As part of this extension, the Department of Health will allocate up to $5.3 billion over two years for existing CHSP providers to deliver in home entry level aged care services to frail and aged Australians over the age of 65 or over the age of 50 for Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders.
"The market for service providers is already open with the department currently funding 47 organisations to deliver CHSP services in the Grampians.
"No decisions have been made regarding future program or funding arrangements for the CHSP beyond June 30, 2022.
"In the meantime, the Department will continue to consult and work with the aged care sector over the coming two years and communicate any update at the earliest opportunity with scope to ensure support for organisations which have benefited from CHSP funding.
Speaking to the Mail-Times earlier this month, Australian Services Union branch executive president Billy King said 50 Horsham council aged care and disability workers' jobs and pay levels were at risk due to the proposed changes.
He said the union had also been in contact with other Wimmera councils about service changes.
"They aren't making decisions at this stage," he said.
The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety interim report was released in October. The final report is due on November 12.
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