Following Commissioner Lynelle Briggs’ comments that the royal commission’s final report is set to turn the entire sector upside-down, CEOs can’t afford to wait any longer, writes Sandra Hills.
The royal commission into aged care has been anything but a breeze. To be quite frank, it’s created significant uncertainty in our organisation. It’s put our workforce under intense in addition to new regulations and overhaul of quality standards that have recently come into play.
And it’s required whole teams to be removed from business as usual to consolidate information, provide submissions, attend hearings and contribute to working groups and broader sector councils. But I know I speak for many sector leaders when I say that we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Last month, when the royal commission delivered its Interim Report titled Neglect, aged care again had many unconscionable failures sprayed across national headlines.
As a country, we were forced to face the countless cases of neglect and pain that older Australians, their partners, family members and loved ones have endured.
While we know that these cases are not reflective of our whole sector, and the thousands of people working with incredible strength within it, we cannot deny these events. There’s no looking away. And that’s the key.
A new apetite for change
The real challenges the report exposed are not new to a sector that’s undergone no less than 18 government enquiries in recent years. But the appetite for change that we now see I believe is new.
No matter what pressure the royal commission has placed our teams and organisations under, the undeniable need for change that’s now been accepted at all levels is invaluable to the future of our work and ultimately all Australians, as we and our loved ones age.
Since the royal commission commenced, it has received 6,600 submissions and 275,000 instances of self-reported sub-standard care and there have been over 200,000 public complaints. The interim report may not have all the solutions, but it certainly provides a very strong indication of where our focus now needs to lie. And that can’t be next year. That needs to start today.
Benetas is leaning in and we’re strongly encouraging all providers across Australia to do the same. The comments made by Commissioner Briggs last week at the Newcastle community forum rings loud and true.
As she said: “Everyone needs to come together and say, ‘We need to fix this.’” Our executive and board members need to continue to engage in the process and start preparing themselves for change as quickly as possible.
Let’s not ignore the mistakes unveiled by the banking royal commission. Good governance is easy to assume and incredibly challenging to enact with good intention at the top able to unravel safety of our customers.
At Benetas we’ve had to thoroughly review our governance to be confident that when we need it most we’re accountable and our processes stack up as we thought. While we fare quite well in this regards, there is always room for improvement.
Benetas is also currently completing its fifth submission to the royal commission since January this year. With the interim report far from skimming lightly over workforce matters, we too have had to examine how our people and culture ensures we don’t simply meet clinical needs, but are recruiting on people’s passion and readiness to go above and beyond for those they care for.
As a member of the Aged Care Industry Workforce Council, there is much to do in this space and we continue to push for action on Australia’s Aged Care Workforce Strategy A Matter of Care.
We regularly review the case studies that appear before the royal commission and have taken the full list of quality and safety issues identified to now cross-check these against our own services. We continue to reflect and ask our teams:
- How well do we know all of our customers, residents and home care clients?
- Can employees talk confidently and accurately about our customers such as their likes, dislikes and idiosyncrasies?
- Do we make sure we go out of our way to talk to the customers and their families who don’t provide feedback or attend meetings? Just because they haven’t said anything, doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot to say.
- How do we ensure that the voices of those with cognitive impairment or dementia are included?
- Can we demonstrate how we communicate with all residents and clients about the new quality standards? And are they at the centre of the partnership?
- Are we confident our feedback and complaints handling is robust? And can we demonstrate our ability to learn from these?
- Are we able to demonstrate critical thinking and root cause analysis on issues and respond beyond the individual complaint?
- How do we demonstrate not only meeting residents’ clinical and personal care needs but also supporting their emotional, intellectual and spiritual experience?
- How are we assessing the skill matrix we need to fully respond to our residents and the ever changing needs of older Australians?
- And how can we better create ways for our customers and their families to co-create the aged services of the future with us?
We are indeed on the brink of complete reform, with the very real opportunity to rebuild our sector on a foundation that we can be incredibly proud of. But the fact is, the outcome will be lacking for those we serve unless all providers are contributing fully to the process.
Yes, it’s resource intensive and can quickly put a strain on our workforce, and at times our morale. But the royal commission is a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to recreate a positive, life-affirming and genuinely respectful foundation where every older Australian can live their best life possible.
Let’s not play the waiting game. Let’s not get tired. Let’s take this opportunity and lean in now as much as we possibly can.
Sandra Hills is chief executive officer of Victorian aged care provider Benetas.