At the Aged and Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA) National Conference, the theme ‘It’s up to us’ was incredibly apt – it applies to every urgent challenge and every opportunity to improve that was discussed over the three days. Here’s my selection of highlights from the conference.
Moving from a culture of compliance to a culture of excellence
The Hon Anika Wells, Minister for Aged Care and Minister for Sport, emphasised the need to move from a culture of compliance to a culture of excellence with a focus on meaningful consultation and collaboration, not just box-ticking. The Minister reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to do better in Indigenous aged care and its ambition for Australia to become world leading in aged care, not just a nation that meets the minimum standards.
She also addressed the huge challenge of employee shortages – the sector faces a shortfall of 100,000 care workers by 2027-28 – and threw out a challenge to the audience:
Are you contributing ideas and solutions to the national debate, and doing all you can to bring the right workers, with the right skills and dedication, to your organisation?
Hearing the voices of older people: what makes quality aged care
Hearing directly from older Australians was both deeply affecting and revealing. Beverly Baker, Chair of the Older Women’s Network NSW & CEO of the Aboriginal Education Council NSW, spoke about what it was like to be suddenly transferred into consumer-directed care in 2017 – from the frying pan to the fire. Her experience was that people could come into her home, say and do whatever they wanted, and no one cared – no one listened to her needs or concerns about how she was being treated.
Her message to providers was focused on the importance of truly engaging with Indigenous older people and understanding the kinship and cultural protocols around who should be spoken to in the community. Valuing diversity and building cultural competency, not just awareness, will be critical to providing quality care to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander older people.
A challenge for those focused on digital solutions and transformation is to build cultural competency into our aged and community care solutions, as well as ensuring they aid the development of trust.
Experience management – customer experience, employee experience, people experience
Any good innovation, KPMG Associate Director Grace Smith said, must meet three key requirements:
- It must be desirable and meet a need or expectation.
- It must be feasible organisationally and technically.
- It must be financially viable and sustainable.
As Smith pointed out, we often start with feasibility and viability. Yes, these are essential, but an experience management approach asks that we put that first key requirement at the centre of our efforts: what’s important to the customer or stakeholder?
This is a pragmatic approach – why spend time, money and resources on something that doesn’t deliver value to the people using it? And from a tech innovation standpoint, it’s an approach that resonates with Simplus – find out what the customer wants then work out a way to do it.
Experience management helps enable joint decision-making which means, for example, that aged care residents have more agency when it comes to what they eat and when, or that employees have more of a say in how their workplace is run. Experience is used as the decision driver and a way to respond to challenges.
Imagine, suggested Smith, what might be possible if we brought an experience management lens to governance and strategy. What could it look like applied at a sector or even societal level?
The corporatisation of Australian residential aged care
As UTS’s Dr Nicole Sutton explained, looking ahead, we should expect further market consolidation as large providers continue to dominate the market. The concern of course is that this results in negative trade offs between profit and quality of care.
But there are pros and cons to small providers being picked up by larger providers. The benefits could include, for example, more opportunities for standardisation of delivery, greater oversight and governance, boards with more experience, greater knowledge across the organisation, and the possibility of economies of scale.
The potential disadvantages might include more layers of bureaucracy and management, concerns about cost cutting compromising quality of care, and clash of cultures or misfit between the acquiring provider and the facility.
The important questions to ask are, Dr Sutton told us, focused on quality of care:
- Does the providers’ scale influence the quality of care?
- How does a home’s quality change after acquisition?
Again, from a technology point of view, there seems to be an abundance of opportunity here for data to play a critical role in addressing these questions and in responding to the challenges of the increasing corporatisation of aged care.
Can tech get broccoli off the table?
Transforming the aged care sector presents enormous challenges, some of which have rapidly approaching deadlines.
But the potential for technology to assist in meeting these demands is huge – it was a big topic of conversation with many of those I spoke with over the course of the conference.
One anecdote stands out for me as an example of how innovative technology solutions could surely help.
An older Australian described how she’d explained to a nurse at her husband’s care home that he didn’t want to eat broccoli. But every day, there it was on his plate – broccoli. It might seem a small thing to someone whose workplace is the aged care home, and who is not enabled to know the preferences of each resident. But this man was being served a food he did not like, in his home, repeatedly – it was a big deal to him and to his family that his preferences were not acknowledged, which is an important part of being treated with dignity and having agency in his own care.
There were multiple reasons the message about food preferences didn’t get through – a lack of continuity in handovers each day, staff on sick leave, paper notes being misplaced. This is where a 360-degree view of the resident or client, with vital input from their family, could work its magic. And not just about meals, but about every aspect of the resident’s experience.
And this – addressing every aspect of the resident’s experience to ensure they receive dignified, safe, high-quality care – is at the core of the challenge Minister Wells offered on day one: Aged care leadership must bring solutions to the table, collaborate, and ensure the right skills and resources are in the right place at the right time.