The Royal Commission into Aged Care and Safety will continue through until November 2020, however, an interim report released on 31 October reveals major issues in the industry. We spoke with Luke Westenberg, CEO of the Aged Care Industry Association (ACIA) about the Royal Commission, the new Aged Care Quality Standards, and what they mean for providers.
Seeking changes through the Royal Commission
Like numerous Royal Commissions before, the exploration into Australia’s aged care system has revealed deep-seated and industry-wide issues, from neglect to service shortfalls, as well as underpaid and insufficiently trained support staff.
While the final report won’t be released until the review wraps up in November 2020, Luke Westenberg, CEO of ACIA, says systemic reform of the sector is the vital first step.
“For me, the key takeaway is the need for reform at the system level,” he says. “The other key point raised by the Royal Commission’s interim report is the increasing consumer focus in the system.
“People seeking care, and those around them, are changing their expectations of what aged care can be, and what it should be. The Royal Commission’s report suggests that the process of aligning the aged care system to a consumer focus is likely to continue.”
Aged Care Quality Standards: how they affect providers
This shifting focus has been complemented by the introduction of new Aged Care Quality Standards. Since 1 July 2019, any and all organisations providing aged care services in Australia are required to comply with these new rules and regulations.
The standards outline the expectations of providers regarding care and service, with the major areas affecting consumers, including:
- Consumer choice and dignity
- Ongoing assessment and planning with consumers
- Personal and clinical care
- Services and supports for daily living
- Organisation’s service environment
- Feedback and complaints
- Human resources
- Organisational governance
Luke says that these standards are a positive move for the industry, but he’s quick to add that continuous improvement is key to compliance with the new Standards.
“Prior to July, the expectations were laid out in separate standards for home care and residential care,” he says. “These new standards represent, in some ways, an increase in expectations on providers. In particular, in addition to heightened consumer focus, they provide more attention on governance in aged care.
Providers have been working to align their operations and processes with the new standards, and to ensure they are responding to the regulatory focus on consumers and governance. As the expectations contained in the standards develop, providers will continue to align with them.”
Limiting factors for greater compliance
While Luke says the first step to adopting new standards – and therefore applying better care and services to clients – is understanding and then implementation, the report reveals a fundamental issue affecting many care providers: lack of funding.
With a national home care waiting list exceeding 120,000, the report calls for urgent funding to address the list – which only continues to grow. The Morrison government has promised it will reveal its “significant package” of funding before Christmas this year, but there are as yet no further details.
Without the proper funding, provision of high-quality care complying with the Aged Care Quality Standards becomes increasingly difficult, particularly if providers simply don’t have the resources to implement major changes to their service offering.
What providers can do to improve their processes
Despite growing pressures from both the Royal Commission and the new standards, Luke says providers can take a number of steps to support compliance while also streamlining their processes.
“The most significant challenge for providers is in having sufficient clarity regarding expectations and operationalising the standards,” he says.
“Background checks on staff are an important tool to ensure their suitability and to identify any issues in previous employment.”
This need for thorough vetting is essential, especially with nearly one in three (32%) of the total residential care workforce being born overseas. Failure by employers to validate their staff’s visa conditions and work entitlement could end up costing them thousands of dollars in fines.
Similarly, manual processes, inadequate infrastructure, and unsophisticated governance and monitoring systems make it increasingly difficult for resource-poor providers to be fully compliant.
“Workplace culture also plays a significant role in meeting community expectations and the quality standards. Providers who establish a positive culture of consumer service and engagement are able to use this culture to drive high-quality care and to meet compliance obligations.”
Taking action now
Comprehensive change to the aged care sector is certainly on the horizon. And it has to be – the industry already supports more than 1.3 million individuals, and Australia’s ageing population will only increase the need for greater personal care. In fact, while government spend on aged care was $18 billion in 2017–18, they are budgeting for more than $25 billion in 2024–25.
While additional funding will be important in enhancing care and services, Luke believes all aged care providers can take practical steps – right now – to elevate their services and align their offering to meet consumer expectations.