October’s release of the Royal Commission’s interim report into the Aged Care sector generated wide-spread attention from the media and interest from the Australian public.
The report, ‘Neglect’, called for a fundamental overhaul of the design, objectives, regulation, and funding of Australia’s aged care system, citing major failures in access to aged care, service shortfalls, an insufficiently trained workforce and isolation of young people with disabilities in aged care facilities. 
The Federal Governments’ response to the interim findings, announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday 25 November 2019, is to pledge $537 million to the sector. The funding package increase home care packages, reduce chemical restraints and remove young people from residential care facilities.
Given Australia’s aging population and the commissioner’s findings, the focus has rightly been on the shortcomings of the current system; however, little light has been shone on the improvements happening in the aged care building works sector, driven by access to funding for aged care providers to improve living standards for the elderly.
Aged Care is a $20 billion-plus industry in Australia and one of the country’s fastest-growing. Despite Health & Aged Care building work falling by 7% (to $5.1 billion) in 2017-18, the sector is currently experiencing an increase in primary health facilities moving into the construction pipeline, more than half of which are aged care facilities.
The value of additional projects over the last 12 months has risen to $6.8 billion, figures comparable to the level of activity reached in the subcategories peak in 2013-14.
SJA’s project management division has a broad range of experience in residential and aged care facilities, including the refurbishment of aged care facilities under the governance of the Higher Accommodation Supplement (HAS) scheme.
The aim of the HAS is ‘to encourage the development of additional capacity in the residential care sector and enhanced quality and amenity of accommodation for residents.
The government provides subsidies and supplements in the form of payments to eligible aged care providers for the services they are contributing to the elderly via in-home care and residential care services.
Residential aged care providers can implement the HAS to boost the quality of their aged care services by leveraging the supplements put in place by the government. In recognition that accommodation and service standards they provide are of a certain quality,
the opportunity exists to increase the overall subsidy for a given recipient (i.e. they are added to the supplement received for basic care needs).
Take the Salvation Army as an example. They have been providing aged care services in Australia since 1899. They currently offer their services across the country via an extensive portfolio of residential aged care centres, retirement villages, and community care services. Their purpose is to promote a unique experience of choice, lifestyle and belonging for all people as they age. They care for the well-being of each person and their families and work tirelessly to ensure the elderly are healthy, comfortable and loved. 
To enhance the quality and amenity of accommodation for their elderly residents, The Salvation Army has committed to undertaking significant refurbishments to many of their existing facilities. SJA was engaged as consultants to assist them with the preparation of several HAS applications to the Department of Health. These applications form part of a process that evaluates the prior and proposed future refurbishment expenditure that brings a significant benefit to the recipients. The HAS is not intended to reward regular maintenance and/or operational expenditure. This process termed a ‘pre-approval pathway’, sought to provide the Salvation Army with the assurance that their intended investment will achieve the desired outcome of attracting the higher accommodation supplement for their elderly residents and recipients.
In assisting with supporting business cases, SJA was able to help The Salvation Army navigate the sometimes complicated process, supporting them in their efforts to secure the higher accommodation supplement and as a result work towards higher accommodation standards.
In securing financial support to invest in resident facilities, The Salvation Army can then provide improved quality of life for the elderly and enhanced working environments for their staff and supporting business units, such as operations and facilities.
Every Australian should agree that there is a long way to go to improve aged care in our country. Given the release of the Royal Commissions’ final report is not due until November 2020, it’s reaffirming to be involved in the process of facilitating financial assistance applications for organisations like The Salvation Army to enhance the residential care provided for our elderly in the immediate term.