Aged care providers have been advised to begin setting up their “war rooms” in preparation for the royal commission.
Peter Weldon, who was appointed First State Super’s program director for the ongoing banking royal commission, provided delegates at a key aged care industry conference with some firsthand insights into what may lie ahead for them.
Describing the financial services royal commission as the “nuclear option”, he told delegates at the LASA congress in Adelaide on Monday that First State Super took a “project approach” in its response to the inquiry.
This involved setting up a seven-member steering committee and appointing him as the full time program director.
“We were advised to set up a ‘war room’, which we did,” he said. “It was a central space in the building from which you could conduct ‘operations’.
Mr Weldon added he didn’t think the organisation’s approach was quite as aggressive as a ‘war room’ might suggest but he says the term stuck.
“It was a dedicated space where we had TV screens, video conference facilities, webcasting facilities, white boards, lockup filing cabinets.
“I was based there permanently, and we had all our meetings there.”
‘Tens of thousands of documents’
He said the committee had to trawl through “tens of thousands of documents” including data bases, personal emails, risk registers and complaints registers.
First State Super also had to respond to additional demands. “You get maybe a couple of weeks to supply maybe hundreds or thousands of additional documents,” he said.
One of the more onerous demands was for information to form the basis of a case study, including preparing a witness to appear.
That request related to a business First State Super had bought which was under different management at the time.
“We were given thirteen days to produce what ultimately amounted to a 160 page statement with about 300 supporting documents,” he said. “It was all hands on deck for those two weeks”.
Victor Harcourt, Principal at Russell Kennedy Lawyers, likened a royal commission to “a coronial inquest on steroids” and anticipated that, like its banking equivalent, it would be very much a political process which could have a “ripple effect” throughout the sector.
Time to start preparing ‘war room’
“Internally, I suggest that you could start setting up your own version of the war room ,” he said.
“That could look like setting up your own team in the organisation that is focused on the aged care royal commission’s terms of reference, but which starts that process now.
“You’ll need to make some decisions about who’ll lead the team, whether it’s purely internal, you’ll have decisions to make about engaging with lawyers and other consultants.
“You certainly need to make some early decisions about who’s going to be the leader of that team, and also the spokesperson and possibly the person giving evidence.
“You’ll also need to ensure you’ve got the processes in relation to the war room and the team set up including document management.”
LASA CEO Sean Rooney, who had earlier flagged in his CEO’s address the likely challenges a royal commission could throw up for the industry, said the aged care sector remained in a “holding pattern” until the inquiry got under way.
“What we’re witnessing is the intersection of having to deal with an aged care system that hasn’t kept pace with the needs and expectations of an ageing population.
“We don’t know where this is going to go because this is uncharted waters.”
However, it represented an opportunity to build a culture of respect for older Australians, regain trust and put in place a sustainable and high-performing aged care sector, he said.
Read more from the LASA Congress here.