There are growing fears more of our most elderly residents will leave town if the federal government doesn’t consider reclassifying Broken Hill’s remoteness.
“It’s just a shame that the ministers that are usually from the city don’t understand just how remote we are out here,” said Mayor Tom Kennedy at this week’s council meeting as he warned the elderly are already leaving town to get aged care support.
The Modified Monash Model (MMM) is the measurement used by government to define whether a location is classified as a city, rural, remote, or very remote, taking into account a location’s remoteness and population size.
The Department of Health uses the MMM to decide the population’s access to healthcare and its workforce distribution, with the system assessing that higher-ranking areas find it more difficult to access medical help, and accessing doctors can take longer, and cost more. Some government programs also use the MMM to determine eligibility requirements.
Based on calculations from 2019, Broken Hill is classified as a MM3 – a large rural town – and is compared with councils such as Lismore and Parkes, due to being an Inner Regional or Outer Regional area not in MM2 and a town of between 15,000 and 50,000 residents.
Broken Hill’s MM3 classification, means access to better medical aid, more qualified essential workers, and some financial incentives, aren’t on the same scale as those areas considered MM4 or above..
At this week’s full council meeting there were calls for the classification to be changed.
“When you’re out here, we’re more likely to be something like Alice Springs or Mount Isa,” said Mayor Kennedy.
“They’re a level seven, which means they are close to the top ratings. We’re a level three, so it’s just silly. And what it means is that it’s very difficult in Broken Hill to provide the services with aged care that we need to, simply because we’re not put in the right classification.”
Using data from the latest census, Broken Hill’s Remoteness Area (RA) is classified as Outer Regional Australia but the area surrounding Broken Hill, including as far north as Milparinka and as far south as the Victorian/NSW border, is considered Remote Australia.
For example, Menindee and Wilcannia are considered the highest rating, MM7 – Very Remote communities.
Mayor Kennedy says there’s a big risk of elderly residents leaving town with new legislation that’s been passed, requiring a registered nurse on all shifts. He says there just aren’t enough registered nurses in Broken Hill.
“The staffing levels are dropping, and you have to have a certain amount of staffing per patient, and depending on your classification, that also affects that,” he said.
“Broken Hill is at the point where we’re not utilising all the aged care beds we have, which is already resulting in people having to leave the city to get aged care services. And that’s only going to increase when the actual regulation hits later this year.”
Required staffing levels are set to change – meaning more staff per patient – as a result of recommendations following the Royal Commission into the state of Australia’s aged care system.
“The reality is we’re understaffed in Broken Hill, and that’s not going to change just because the regulations change,” says the Mayor.
“What’s going to change is it’s going to mean that the facilities aren’t complying, which means they’re going to reduce their number of aged care patients.”
The Council has written to the Federal Minister for Aged Care, as well as local MPs Roy Butler (state) and Mark Coulton (federal) requesting Broken Hill be reclassified Category 6 under the MMM.
“[The Member for Parkes and the Member for Barwon] have always supported Council’s push to reclassify, they always write correspondence to the appropriate ministers pushing our case, trying to explain our case,” Cllr Kennedy said.
“Regardless of political affiliation, anyone that holds this seat knows just how big it is and how remote it is. Our MPs have always known just how remote we are and they push that amongst their colleagues. They do a great job.”