Consumer-focused reforms are demanding new workforce skill sets and service models, provider CEO Cheryl De Zilwa tells Community Care Review.
Getting the workforce right is critical to the success of the reforms currently underway in community care, says Calvary Community Care CEO Cheryl De Zilwa.
“The number one challenge is workforce. This is an issue not just across Australia but internationally.”
New efforts are required in the sector to improve working conditions and rebrand the role of the support worker to attract a wider and more diverse pool of workers to meet the needs of consumers, she says.
“Unless we attract and retain a workforce that meets the requirements of this new customer-focused approach then the policy intent won’t be met.”
Calvary is investing in career pathways for staff and improving workplace conditions that “have both flexibility and certainty,” says Ms De Zilwa.
As a result of the introduction of consumer directed care, the provider has also embarked on a staff development program to build leadership capability across its 1,600-strong workforce.
“Our support workers are now making decisions daily with their clients. While leadership at a local level in someone’s home is different to a technical management level, it still is a core skill that we need to develop in our workforce.”
The goal is to empower support workers to work with clients to identify additional needs and tailor services to support improved outcomes, she says.
Rural and remote
The large not-for-profit provider delivers aged care and disability services in five states and territories, covering geographically dispersed locations – from Hobart and Sydney to Port Augusta, Alice Springs and Bathurst Island, one of the two inhabited Tiwi islands.
As the sole service provider on the remote island, there is an even greater responsibility to be as responsive to local needs as much as possible, she says.
Ms De Zilwa says a different approach to market-based competition is required in so-called thin markets to ensure the long-term viability of services. The provider is also in talks with government about committing to a different deal for remote services.
She says the principles of choice and control can be retained in an alternative model, while offering a greater level of funding stability to ensure the sustainability of services to small populations.
Home care reform
Reflecting on the early implementation of the February 2017 home care changes, De Zilwa says the organisation has experienced “a steady flow of interested new customers” and anticipates growth in its home care program.
“We have been enjoying the freedom of having a conversation about a person’s needs and goals rather than whether we have a package vacancy, which has been positive.”
However, De Zilwa is concerned the new system for allocating packages to consumers through My Aged Care doesn’t adequately recognise the vulnerability of the older person and their need for support to navigate the system and exercise choice.
“It is often a crisis or an event such as a hospital episode that triggers a request for help,” she says.
It is also critical that clients and families are kept informed about their progress while waiting in the national queue.
Avoiding a race to the bottom
In the shift to a market-based community care system, Ms De Zilwa says it will be important to monitor the impact of price competition on quality standards.
“There is the potential for a race to the lowest price and with this approach we are more likely to see compromises to safety, reliability and the rigour required to sustain a critical service to the most vulnerable,” she says.
New hybrid models emerging
The option for clients to self-manage their package is also presenting a challenge to traditional service models, especially in disability, says Ms De Zilwa.
In response, the not-for-profit is developing a hybrid model for clients wanting to take on more responsibility for their care, such as selecting their own worker, while handing responsibilities for HR, training and professional development of support workers to Calvary.
“We are also mindful that throughout a person’s life and as their needs change, they may want a different approach to managing their package, which will require service models to be flexible.”
This article appears in the current edition of Community Care Review magazine. Look out for the Spring edition out soon.