The majority of community aged care workers say the system isn’t allowing them to meet the emotional and social needs of their clients.

Gabrielle Meagher

Dr Gabrielle Meagher, from Macquarie University, unpacked findings from her recent research into how well the aged care system is meeting the needs of older Australians at the CHSP Futures Conference in Sydney on Tuesday.

As part of the study, conducted for the Heath Services Union and United Voice and released late last year, her team surveyed 200 home care workers about how well they were set up to deliver person-centred care and whether their organisation supported the model.

“Basically the findings were that the aged care system is under strain, and it’s currently not resourced or organised in a way that enables it to meet a broader conception of the needs of older people that includes their social and emotional wellbeing,” she told Community Care Review on the sidelines of the conference.

“It’s very clear from the research that what older people want is a more holistic person-centred model of care, and delivering it through a market is unlikely to achieve that.

“When we surveyed workers they were pretty stressed and feeling that a lot of the aspirations they had, they felt they weren’t able to manage given the level of resources of the organisations they worked for.”

Not enough time to respond to unexpected needs

Among the findings, only 28 per cent of home care workers said they had time to get to know each older person as a unique individual and only 69 per cent had time to talk to an older person at mealtimes.

Ninety per cent said they didn’t have enough time to respond to unexpected needs or to spend unplanned time with someone who was feeling sad.

Only 29 per cent said managers allowed them to change their routines based on the preferences of a client and just a third believed managers understood the importance of workers’ relationships with older clients.

There was also a disconnect between what workers prioritised in their relationship with clients, and what managers prioritised. Three quarters of workers said they preferred to focus on relating well with older people rather than getting tasks done quickly. However only 17 per cent of managers shared this view.

Well over half the workers surveyed (62 per cent) worked unpaid hours to make sure their clients got the care they needed.

The survey showed older people were missing out on support as a result. Eighty five per cent of workers said they had seen a lonely or distressed older person go without emotional support,  and 63 per cent said they had seen clients miss support for diversional therapies and social activities. Almost half had observed support lacking for an older person to have good relationships with family and friends.

Dr Meagher also said the introduction of apps as workforce management tools were often to the detriment of workers.

Rather than empowering workers, the technology had a controlling effect, Dr Meagher said.

“You’ve got thee minutes to do this, five minutes to do that, two minutes to do that. Plus we’re tracking you mobile phone location,” she said.

Aged care roadmap to nowhere

Meanwhile, Professor Michael Fine from Macquarie University told the conference the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety offered a circuit breaker to put aged care reform back on track and bury the destructive market-based vision of the 2016 Aged Care Roadmap.

“I am very glad that they are holding off on implementing current reform policy set out in after the royal commission,” Professor Fine told the conference.

“I find that whole roadmap really worrying. I fear if we’re going to follow that roadmap we’re going to end up nowhere. It’s a roadmap to nowhere.

“We’ve got to think very carefully whether we’re going to follow it or take this opportunity to make our voices heard and tell them we know a better way.”

The proposed reforms, including abolishing block funding and forcing home support services to compete on a fee-for-service basis, will destroy the vital community social model of CHSP, he said.

They would also break the ‘balance of care’ approach which seeks to minimise the number of people who rely on residential care, he said.

Read more:

Treating clients like individuals, not tasks

Consumer experiences of home care

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1 Comment

  1. How exciting that Dr Meagher has identified that relationship-building is a challenge for workers in providing good care. I’m excited that my Honours thesis feels ‘alive’ where I explored care labour (under Dr Michael Fine). Through a range of methodologies, I identified that Friendship is a valued ingredient in the provision of care for workers, but that same value is not appreciated by care providers.

    Emotional care and support of older people needs multiple responses. Counselling is one. Our sector would benefit from skilled and registered aged care counsellors.

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