Is low mental health treatment of aged care residents a result Medicare exemption?

Just think of the following figures. At present, (June 2015 figures) around 173,000 older Australians live in residential aged-care homes. Of these people, about 30,000 have symptoms of some form of mental illness, from anxiety or depression, and another 86,000 have some form of dementia. That’s a lot of people in residential aged care! One of them might be your friend or relative.
However, the absence of treatment of these mental disorders is little short of appalling. Less than one percent of residents with mental health issues receive ANY form of treatment.
Excuses given for the low treatment of mental health issues range from lack of staff training in recognising mental health issues and resident aversion to admitting mental health issues.
However, it appears that a major cause of the low treatment rates may be a Medicare “rule” where residents are not classified as patients “in the community’ and thus excluded from the Medicare Better Access to mental health treatment plans. Such systematic neglect is horrific when one considers how many residents, without prior mental health issues, have to adjust to the loss of partners, their health, the family home and a lifelong independence and self-sufficiency.
Aged care providers are under no obligation to provide mental health services and the reduced aged care funding model adopted by the federal government from 2017 will make it even harder to justify the extra expenditure, unless it comes from the residents’ own pockets.

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