The head of the aged care provider appointed to run the Federal Government’s $54.5 million Severe Behaviour Response Teams says they will improve providers’ capacity to care for seniors with dementia more than the former dementia supplement ever did.

Minister for Aged Care Sussan Ley on Thursday announced that HammondCare, a dementia specialist, had been awarded the tender to operate the SBRTs, which will provide advice and assessment to residential aged care facilities caring for seniors exhibiting severe behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD).

Stephen Judd
Stephen Judd

HammondCare chief executive officer Stephen Judd said that the teams would be staffed by clinicians such as senior nurses and clinical psychologists, in association with geriatricians. The provider would have “both partners and personnel in every state,” he said of the staffing for the new network.

The SBRTs replace the former Dementia and Severe Behaviours Supplement, which the government suspended after it blew out its $11 million budget to over $135 million in its first year and sparked a debate about the number of residents who have BPSD in residential aged care.

Dr Judd said that, by the middle of next year, the SBRTs would provide a better understanding of the number of residents with BPSD.

Most calculations were based on a 2003 paper by Professor Henry Brodaty and colleagues which, while “a very fine study”, was based on estimates and the authors’ own clinical experience, he said.

“I think if nothing else the SBRTs will reshape our knowledge of the residents in residential aged care,” Dr Judd said.

Dr Judd confirmed the SBRTs will respond within four hours of receiving a referral.

Following an initial assessment, the SBRTs will follow up with a face-to-face or telehealth consultation to assess the causes of the resident’s behaviours and advise care staff to resolve the immediate crisis and develop longer term care plans.

“It’s important these teams engage with the providers who are having the particular issue. So while we have advisory services that will refer, this is a case of people actually showing up,” he said.

Workforce capacity, addressing underlying issues

Beyond yielding a more accurate picture of the numbers of residents with BPSD, Dr Judd also said he was certain the new teams would improve capability across the sector.

He said HammondCare’s experience with “severe behaviours” was that there was often an underlying issue, such as untreated pain, which the person was unable to communicate due to their dementia.

Ultimately the sector could not manage what it did not measure, and the SBRTs would provide “far more information and capacity building than the fairy dust of the supplement ever did,” he said.

Calls for specialised units 

While welcoming the establishment of the mobile teams, provider peak Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) said that specialised units were also needed.

The units could be characterised by a specialised workforce, good dementia design and low levels of medical and physical restraint, ACSA said.

The proposal for care units has the support of many others, including Dr Judd and Professor Brodaty, as part of a broad strategy of caring for people with BPSD.

The SBRTs will initially work closely with the existing Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Services (DBMAS) in each state and territory but will ultimately be integrated with the DBMAS from 2016-17.

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