Dealing with sanctions in aged care.

It is a CEO’s worst nightmare. To see their organisation named and shamed in the newspaper or to see their organisation listed on the Department’s website . No aged care facility would like to be labelled a ‘dodgy operator’.

The very nature of the aged care industry however means that aged care facilities are continuously exposed to scrutiny. The Department of Social Services will always be watching. In a situation that will not change, what matters therefore is the attitude, expressed in systems and culture, that your aged care facility adopts.

Accept that sometimes your organisation will fail. No business activity is risk free. The very decision to enter the aged care industry leaves you exposed to scrutiny. A sanction imposed by the Department of Health is just another one of the various ways in which an aged care can be exposed to scrutiny. Other issues are common: health outbreaks, fire and emergencies, fraudulent activity by employees and assault.

A sanction or certificate of non-compliance imposed by the Department of Health under the Aged Care Act is a serious issue for an aged care facility. Announced or unannounced, the Aged Care Accreditation Standards Agency will visit your aged care facility and, in accordance with the Aged Care Accreditation Standards, and make assessments.

Matters of consideration include management systems, health and personal care, resident lifestyle and physical environment. If there is risk, but not an immediate and severe risk to the safety and well-being of residents, then the Department may issue a notice of non-compliance. When the risk is more serious, the facility will be given an opportunity to respond. Failing an appropriate response, the failure to comply is published on the website and, seconds later, the ever watchful media will run the story. The agency report, although not public yet, will be release at a later date. Journalists know this.

On the ground, the company must call a family meeting and appoint a nurse advisor. This is the most pivotal point in managing communication surrounding the sanction.

We’ve helped a number of providers get through this challenge. Here are some insights:

  • Do not allow the presence of a nurse advisor to dis-empower management before families and residents. You know your operation better than anyone, even if you need help at this point in time.
  • Family members will always support nursing and care staff, choosing to target management with their anxiety and anger.
  • The facility manager is under extreme pressure. Support them in this time, even if you must let them go later. The domino effect that results from a facility manager leaving imperils your operation. And a disgruntled ex staff member is just what the media looks for.
  • An honest, pragmatic and earnest response says volumes about the capacity of a provider business. Trust is quickly re-established; staff are emboldened by an affirmative and supportive management team.
  • The government is one voice. The provider has a voice too – often well respected and afforded an ear despite the situation. The media, families and other stakeholders will respect a provider’s perspective when it is well put.
  • Having a plan in advance for issues management says to staff that the business is working to protect their interests and exposure to negative scrutiny or charges of poor practice.

At the root of effective issues management is the attitude that leading aged care providers take to potential issues/crises. It goes further than reputation management. A poor reputation following the imposition of a sanction will not mean the end if the company has generated strong stakeholder relationships before, during and after the sanction. If the community trusts and has confidence in your organisation and its ability to deal with issues, then they will continue to support you long term even despite the imposition of a sanction. Stakeholders will recognise the longstanding contribution of the facility to the health and wellbeing of the community.

Within issues management strategies, communications approaches are tied to action responses. If your facility has been criticised for its failure to properly administer medication or its failure to maintain appropriate levels of staff, actions are taken to solve the problem immediately while stakeholders are kept well informed.

Even the best make mistakes. If your facility has the right attitude, then you will be respected and supported. Aged care facilities that are resilient and courageous enough to correct mistakes and have a plan in response to issues will recover and thrive.

With the risk of the Department placing a lock on the door, issues management is your key.

Read more from our issues management series here.

Talk to us about issues management and dealing with sanctions in aged care.

image credit: abhijit chendvankar