Village News

The secret to stress-free care

15 December 2023


First published in NZ Herald

Aged care can be a “minefield” - but easier options are appearing.

So you’ve a parent or parents who need care - but care is a subject that itself needs care as it opens a door to a whole new process and range of requirements. Today Metlifecare begins a series which not only touches on different models of care - like the new care suites - but also helps guide people through one of the most important decisions affecting loved ones.

It’s a compelling contradiction: as people age and their health deteriorates, many know they will need residential care – but few plan for it.

That’s because it’s a big subject which many ignore, often until forced to address it. The prospect of moving from a house into a rest home can be daunting – and so can working out how to pay for it.

“Navigating the New Zealand aged care system can be a minefield, and stressful not only for the resident but also their family,” says Jill Birch, aged care strategy lead at Metlifecare, adding that it doesn’t have to be daunting if people understand how the aged care system works in New Zealand and prepare for the option best for them or a loved one.

New models of care being introduced by operators like Metlifecare can make it easier to fund this time of life, she says: “People often don’t want to know the details because they’re confronting. But a bit of education, especially about the financial side of it, can make a difference.”

The first step is to figure out what the care needs are. Your GP can refer you to Te Whatu Ora’s local Needs Assessment and Service Coordination (NASC) team. The assessor will work out which type of care is best and if so, what level of care is required ranging from rest home level care, through to secure dementia or hospital level care. If residential care is the best option, the next step is to find a place in a care home and work out how to pay for it.

The price that can be charged for aged residential care services is gazetted by Te Whatu Ora each year. This daily care fee is the same for all residential care facilities within a geographic area (previously DHBs). This daily care fee covers care services in a standard room – without an ensuite bathroom – and includes nursing services, meals, laundry, housekeeping, activities, GP visits and some prescriptions.

The gazetted daily care fee currently ranges from $193.68 per day in South Waikato District, through to $209.18 per day in Auckland City. A government subsidy is available to cover part or all of this fee, depending on what assets are owned. At the moment, to qualify for the subsidy, assets need to be less than $273,628. If you own a home and your partner will remain there, assets (excluding your home and vehicle) need to total less than $149,845.

Most care homes offer a higher level of accommodation than the standard room covered by the gazetted daily care fee. For features like an ensuite bathroom, an additional accommodation premium is usually charged. This premium charge must be paid for privately because no government subsidy is available.

“Depending on the room, the premium charge can range anywhere from a few dollars to over $100 per day. Whilst residents are reassured that if required a subsidy is available to cover the gazetted daily care fee, many residents worry about running out of funds to pay the premium accommodation charges which are invoiced monthly and are not subsidised.” says Birch.

Care suites – a new way

Realising the concern many residents were having, Birch has been rolling out a new model at Metlifecare, offering premium accommodation known as care suites. These suites include tea- and coffee-making facilities with a fridge, along with an ensuite bathroom and, in some cases, enough space for a couple to share the room. They are also different in the way the resident funds the premium accommodation.

“Residents like knowing, with the care suite model, that they can’t run out of funds to pay for their premium accommodation no matter how long they stay in our care”.

At Metlifecare, care suites are sold under an Occupation Right Agreement (ORA), the same model under which retirement village accommodation is purchased. The premium accommodation cost is funded via the net management fee deducted at the end of the ORA and this amount is capped at 30 per cent of the care suite capital sum.

“By putting up some capital at the beginning to pay for a care suite, and with the capped maximum deduction at the end, residents and their families can rest assured they will not worry about running out of funds to pay for their premium accommodation” explains Birch.

Metlifecare has been investing heavily in care because the ageing population means a greater need for such services.

“Two years ago, we had 400 care beds available, now we’ve got over 1000 and shortly it will be 1400,” says Birch. “We had only been building enough care beds for people within our villages but, with this model, we can offer more care beds and people who need one don’t have to be in one of villages, although our residents do get preference.”

The care suites are certified to provide both rest home and hospital level care and some are also suitable for secure dementia level care. For example, a new care suite building at Gulf Rise, Red Beach, offers both residential and secure dementia care. “We will be building more because the need is there,” says Birch.

Birch says there’s been great feedback about the care suites Metlifecare already has up and running. “There can be a lot of stress around going into aged care and the money it costs but hopefully we can help to ease some of that by offering more options.”

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