Above: Masonic Care Alliance member CEOs L- R: Felix Pintado, Robert Gore, Marie-Louise MacDonald, Marlene Johnston, Nigel Faull, Lee-ann Irwin, Doug Strain.
By Keryn Curtis
Aged care advocacy has another new voice in the Masonic Care Alliance. Officially launched last week, the Masonic Care Alliance comprises all of the major state and territory based Masonic care organisations in a first-ever formal national alliance.
The member organisations include Masonic Care WA, Royal Freemasons Vic, The Whiddon Group (NSW), Star Aged Living (QLD), Masonic Care Queensland, Masonic Home Retirement Living (SA &NT), and Masonic Care Northern Tasmania.
The national not-for-profit Alliance has been established as a company limited by guarantee with more than 3500 employees and combined assets in excess of $1.2 billion.
Together, Masonic Care Alliance members represent 4000 residential aged care beds, 700 community care packages and more than 3000 independent living and low cost rental units.
Inaugural president of the new organisation is Lee-ann Irwin, chief executive of The Whiddon Group in New South Wales, which is the largest state entity in the group with over 1,300 residential care beds.
Ms Irwin says the Alliance has two main objectives, one of which is to gain the benefits and efficiencies of scale when it comes to purchasing power and sharing knowledge and expertise. The other is to make their voice heard in Canberra.
“As the industry moves toward a smaller number of bigger players, we will be able to make more efficient use of resources. But at another level, the group plans to discuss challenges facing not-for-profits within the housing and aged care sectors.
“What we hope to achieve here is recognition of the huge contribution that aged care and low cost housing providers make to the lives of ordinary Australians. It is essential that the needs of these organisations are taken into account over and above the dollars and cents that it costs to provide these essential services.
“The sustainability aspect is critical and is often overlooked in short term planning,” Ms Irwin said.
The Masonic Care Alliance has already lent its voice to the political process with members of the Alliance addressing the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs looking into the Living Longer Living Better aged care reform bills, in Sydney on 30 April this year. Members have also met with then Minister for Ageing, Mark Butler as well as shadow minister for ageing, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.
“The five concerns brought to me by clients across our residential, community care, and independent living services are affordability of housing, quality of services, the protection of personal savings, access to care and choice of services,” said Ms Irwin.
“These issues are echoed across Australia, whether it is in Esperance, Launceston, or as far north as Cairns. The Alliance is committed to continue working with government to achieve the best possible outcome for all older Australians concerned about these issues.”
Affordable housing imperative
According to Ms Irwin, while the Masonic Care Alliance represents the broadest spectrum of housing and services from seniors housing right through home and community care to dementia specific residential high care, a key strength of the Alliance is its affordable housing representation, in particular across rural, regional and remote locations.
“We do have a strong presence in the housing area, especially in the provision of low cost housing and assisted living. We feel this is a really key area for the future and it’s one of the areas that isn’t as well represented in advocacy from other groups,” she said.
Ms Irwin said the Masonic Care Alliance strongly supported a single voice for advocacy on behalf of aged service providers, noting that the two biggest members of the Alliance (The Whiddon Group in NSW and Royal Freemasons in Victoria) had board representation with Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) in both NSW and Victoria.
However, she said other members of the Alliance were members of Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA).
“We believe there should only be one voice but I am not sure we will see that for some time. That’s why we feel we need to be heard at the moment. Because it is so fragmented, we feel we can provide a different viewpoint, another opinion,” she said.