Is aged care ‘facing a crisis’ or does the sector need to improve its ‘crisis management’?
As the aged care sector shifts towards a market-based, consumer-driven system, it faces mounting scrutiny. As government and providers work to find efficient and effective means of regulating the aged care system, and ensuring the best possible quality of aged care services for older Australians, public interest continues to increase. In just the last few weeks we have seen:
- Mainstream news stories focussing on failures of care in aged and mental health services, and sanctions imposed on facilitates around the country.
- The release of Monash University Professor Joseph Ibrahim’s report into premature deaths in aged care.
- An announcement that Australian Government is commissioning an independent review of the Commonwealth’s aged care quality regulatory processes.
But anyone involved in the industry knows that the system is not in crisis. Whilst there are occurrences of preventable deaths, and examples of improvement needed, this is nothing new. The quality of aged care services in Australia are excellent overall, and continue to improve as we transition to a consumer-driven system.
Experiencing firsthand the change to consumer-directed care in the UK, I am watching again as the same pressures mount on aged care providers here. In short, the UK scenario went like so: first came increasing media scrutiny, then government and independent inquiries, then increasing regulation and more stringent compliance checks. And alongside all of this, of course, public fear grew. The strain on providers saw many buckle and fold, and the aged care system went into crisis.
Whilst increasing scrutiny isn’t necessarily a bad thing, nor the singular cause of the UK’s aged care crisis, it definitely had an important role. Increasing regulation demands more time and money spent on compliance and administration on the part of aged care providers.
Although the Australian aged care system is better funded than the UK’s, and Australia is not facing austerity measures like the UK was, it is clear that funding will decrease as the true costs of delivering care increase. When providers spend more of their budget on compliance, there is less budget for attracting, retaining and upskilling their workforce, innovating services to better meet the wants and needs of consumers, and investing in facilities that are better designed to meet individual wellbeing.
“Having a firm but fair regulatory system which protects older people while allowing service innovation to flourish is absolutely key – ACSA looks forward to providing input into the Commonwealth review and discussing implementation of any necessary changes.”
– Pat Sparrow, CEO, ACSA in Talking Aged Care
Improving crisis management.
When facing a crisis or issue, aged care providers need to inspire confidence through sound preparation, highlighting protection for the wellbeing of our older people. In times of distress, the smallest shred of controversy on screen or in the papers will become a focal point to shareholders and threaten organisational reputation. Displaying humility and dedication to bettering the process will inspire trust and loyalty, and inevitably build business sustainability.
Aged care will always have a broad range of risks. There are several challenges aged care providers may face, but most can be foreseen and prepared for, including:
- Sanctions applied by the Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency (Aged Care Quality Agency) and other effects of non-compliance with regulations
- Rape and/or assault charges against carers, residents or family members
- Fraudulent activity by management and staff
- Fires or facility failures that trigger operational emergency responses
- Disease outbreaks
- Real or contrived media tip-offs from disgruntled family members or ex-employees.
Planned responses will protect residents and family wellbeing and build trust in a crisis.
Aged care providers serve some of the most vulnerable, at-risk members of society. Ultimately, their mistakes will affect clients, the staff that care for clients, and distraught client families. The wide reach of the sector makes it a regular focus for scrutiny and negative perceptions in the community, creating delicate situations for risk mitigation. Providers having an appropriate and effective crisis management plan in place is not only important in protecting their business, but also in protecting the aged care sector.