Opinion: Why some five-star aged care homes are the worst in the country

Last updated on 18 January 2024

Criticism over the Government’s aged care star ratings system means not all positive reviews may be what they seem. [Source: Shutterstock]

Written by Rachel Lane. This article first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and has been published on hello leaders with the author’s permission.

In December 2022, the federal government introduced star ratings for aged care homes to provide simple, reliable information about the quality of care.

However, a recent report indicates that instead of providing the transparency that older people need to compare and choose an aged care home, the star ratings may actually lead them to choose one that is delivering poor care.

The study, by Adjunct Professor Rodney Jilek, compared the 501 aged care homes on the government’s non-compliance register over 12 months from November 2022 with the star ratings those homes had received.

“We targeted the homes on the non-compliance register mainly because they are supposed to be the worst in the country – they’re all non-compliant – so you would reasonably expect that they would represent the lowest ratings, but 68 homes had 5-stars for compliance and 81 had 4-star compliance ratings,” he said.

The stars are administered by the Department of Health and Aged Care and measure aged care homes against four criteria: resident experience (33%), staffing (22%), quality measures (15%), and compliance with regulations and standards (30%).

Dr Jilek said: “The resident experience measure is completely useless, only 10% of residents are surveyed, and the care provider can control the outcome by cherry-picking the residents”.

He explained that the staffing and quality measures were based on un-vetted provider-supplied data and there was no validation or check measure to ensure it was correct.

Rachel Lane, author and Principal, Aged Care Gurus. [Source: LinkedIn]

The compliance measure is the only component that is provided by an independent body, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, and they are giving homes five stars for compliance when they have determined that they are non-compliant.

If you are investigating an aged care home for yourself, the best research you can do is to try a respite stay. Respite enables you to have one or more stays in an aged care home for up to a total of 63 days (nine weeks) per year.

A stay of two or three weeks is normally long enough for you to determine whether you like the activities, the other residents, the food and most importantly the care. If you are contemplating a couple of different homes you could have a stay in each to work out which suits you best.

Respite is very affordable as there are no accommodation payments and no means-tested fees. You simply pay the basic daily fee, set at 85% of the Age Pension (currently $61 per day), plus any extra or additional service fees for things like hairdressing, wine and entertainment.

Respite is government funded so to get access you will need to have your care needs assessed by the Aged Care Assessment Team (normally just referred to as ACAT). The starting point is to contact My Aged Care either through their website or by telephone.

The star ratings system was one of the key recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. Having a simple, reliable measure of the quality of care an aged care home provides is crucial in working out whether you are going to get good value. Until you can have confidence in the star ratings, it’s best to do your own research.

Rachel Lane is the author of the bestselling book Aged Care, Who Cares? and Downsizing Made Simple with fellow finance expert Noel Whittaker. The new edition of Downsizing Made Simple is now available online.

Advice given in this article is general in nature and is not intended to influence readers’ decisions about investing or financial products. They should always seek their own professional advice that takes into account their own personal circumstances before making any financial decisions.

star ratings
aged care star rating system
quality and safety
legal and compliance
aged care star ratings
rodney jilek
rachel lane
aged care guru