Recent and ongoing events including bushfires, storms and the COVID-19 pandemic have stalled many strategic plans including developments, but others such as telehealth have accelerated, provider CEOs tell Australian Ageing Agenda.

To mark the beginning of the 2020-21 financial year, AAA asked the chief executive officers of aged care organisations about the year ahead. Last week they shared their biggest concerns and hopes for 2020-21 (read more here). Here, aged care CEOs talk about their plans for year ahead, and how recent events have influenced those plans.

IRT Group CEO Patrick Reid said the organisation has been going non-stop since New Year’s Eve when eight IRT sites on the NSW South Coast came under direct bushfire threat.

“Fortunately our residents and customers remained safe and our buildings unaffected. Shortly after we were hit by severe storms followed by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been relentless,” Mr Reid told AAA.

Patrick Reid

“We’ve had to put all of our property development projects on hold to be prudent while we see what happens to the already difficult operating conditions that have been exacerbated by these crises.”

But other plans including the “massive uptake of telehealth” at IRT aged care centres, have been accelerated, he said.

“I’ve probably spent about 20 years of my life working to get telehealth accepted more broadly and in just three months we were able to roll it out. It was thrilling to watch our frontline employees accept it and work with it under the incredible circumstances of the pandemic and to see the difference it’s bringing to our residents’ lives.”

Mr Reid predicts its popularity means they won’t be going back to waiting for doctors in waiting rooms anytime soon. But while IRT has achieved a lot in a short time, the impacts of the fires, storms and COVID-19 have put a lot of pressure on finances, he said.

“We are certainly not where we thought we would be at this point six months ago. Last year, we broke even in our year-end results and we were shooting for a modest profit this year. That’s no longer the case as for many of our colleagues.”

As part of its adapted plans IRT will focus on four main areas in 2020-21 to ensure quality care for clients while looking after ever toiling staff, Mr Reid said.

“The first is to find new ways to generate revenue so we can continue to be the community-focused, not-for-profit organisation we are today. The second is to ensure our organisation is best aligned to support the important work of our frontline employees.

“Third is cost containment and stripping out non-essential costs, diverting all available resources to the frontline. The final item is to make sure that our aged care centre and retirement village sites and home care regions align with customer demand and needs.”

There is hard work ahead but with IRT’s incredibly hard working employees, Mr Reid said he was sure they would together make 2021 a better year than this one.

New ageing precinct underway

After putting $2.3million in capital works on hold in 2019-20 due to uncertainty around COVID-19, it is all systems go again for Helping Hand Aged Care. Its strategic priority for this financial year is to develop a new ageing and wellness community precinct, said Helping Hand CEO Chris Stewart.

“The pandemic impacted the organisation financially, raising staffing costs and reducing enquiries – notwithstanding the government’s support. Helping Hand made some tough budget decisions around corporate overhead staffing and has refocused the business around frontline care,” Mr Stewart told AAA.

Chris Stewart

The new precinct in North Adelaide opposite its existing aged care home responds to the wave of Baby Boomers coming with the number of people turning 80 set to double from next year, he said.

“Boomers have much higher expectations around aged care because they will be paying for it. They want much richer experiences. They want to be able to enjoy the outdoors regularly and to be independent for as long as possible,” Mr Stewart said.

The new precinct will have an integrated care model to allow people to remain in their own homes for longer and reflect people’s desire to be connected and live in smaller pods that feel like home, Mr Stewart said.

“It will be dementia-friendly and will incorporate design principles from the COVID-19 experience – lights and doors will be touch-free, and there will be space to enable quarantining if necessary. It will also be technology-enabled to enable greater connectivity because COVID busted the myth that older people can’t use technology.”

Elsewhere Helping Hand will continue to invest in building the capability of all members of its workforce and further strengthen corporate governance and clinical and care governance, he said.

Capturing lessons learnt

Benetas CEO Sandra Hills also said COVID-19 has had a huge impact across the organisation, resulting in intensified efforts and new measures to protect the health and safety of residents, clients and indeed our employees.

“With this being far from business as usual, we’ve been adamant to capture the lessons learnt and continue to ensure that our strategic plan remains fit for purpose. Following a comprehensive review, COVID-19 has in fact made our existing strategic plan more relevant than ever,” Ms Hills told AAA.

Sandra Hills

“Our focus on delivering an exceptional customer experience for older Australians this financial year remains front and centre of all our considerations. We’re also continuing to prioritise a positive employee experience going forward.”

Ms Hills said the evolving COVID-19 situation has accelerated the need for agile management. This has resulted in Benetas prioritising 10 strategic projects for the next six months, streamlining internal processes and continuing to remove systems and structure no longer adding direct value.

“Importantly, we’re also working to reduce hierarchy and increase accountability at different levels of management. This is something we’ve been prioritising for a number of years and are very pleased to take big steps forward in this space,” Ms Hills said.

Within the space of a few months, Benetas has also significantly strengthened its digital capacity and consumer engagement, she said.

“These valuable organisation-wide developments are something we look to further bedding down this coming financial year,” she said.

Opening 6 facilities, 24 wellness centres

Opal Aged Care CEO Rachel Argaman also said recent events have provided opportunities to learn from. But overall, plans for 2020-21 continue to build upon the 2018 strategic foundation and redefined purpose “to bring joy to those we care for, ” she said.

“This includes the systems that support person-centred care for our residents, such as GEM our customer experience system, our Voice of Customer, which enables us to conduct and publish resident and family reviews, and working to build strong community relationships,” Ms Argaman told AAA.

Rachel Argaman

Opal has four new care community developments opening this year in New South Wales and one each in Western Australia and Victoria.

“In addition, after the successful completion of five pilot wellness centres, we will continue to rollout another 24 Wellness Centres that support resident movement and mobility through allied health and other programs – embedding these at both existing and new-build care homes,” Ms Argaman said.

While no one would have wished for either, she said Opal has learned from the past and ongoing challenges of both the bushfires and COVID-19. 

“If anything, the crises have reinforced the strategic path we are on; one that is focused on person-centred care, and the data and systems, which support the people delivering that. Our customer focused strategy is driving systems, frameworks and resources that are now enabling our COVID-19 response,” Ms Argaman said.

Investing in people, refurbishments

Like some of his counterparts, Paul Sadler, CEO of Presbyterian Aged Care in NSW and ACT, said he was planning for another tough year. There are no major new developments planned, with the provider instead focusing capital spending on refurbishments and vital maintenance. 

Paul Sadler

“Filling our recently refurbished aged care home at Thornleigh will be a priority. At the same time, we intend to continue investments into our human resources and IT systems,” Mr Sadler told AAA.

“We anticipate there will be some continued growth in our home care operations though it is important for the Government to release additional Home Care Packages. We expect residential care operations will experience ongoing financial difficulties, so we will continue efforts to improve income generation and ensure the best quality of care we can.”

He said the pandemic and bushfires impacted the organisation during 2019-20 but no staff members or clients have been directly affected by COVID-19.  The provider also experienced severe wind damage to the roof of Stockton facility in August 2019, Mr Sadler said.

“For 2020-21, we anticipate an ongoing impact from COVID-19 as visitor restrictions continue in residential care in particular.”

Delivering a new five-year strategy

Similarly, Feros Care CEO Jennene Buckley said the last six months had been difficult as it has for all businesses, communities and government.

“For Feros Care, with clients and staff in six states and territories, managing and responding to the fires and then the COVID-19 situation has been consuming and one of the most difficult times I can remember in the last decade,” Ms Buckley told AAA.

Jennene Buckley

Juggling business as usual, fire disasters and  COVID-19 has impacted on plans, but Feros Care is fortunate to have a wonderful team working together to ensure the organisation stays on track as much as possible, Ms Buckley said.

Feros Care is in the last year of its current five- year strategic plan, which means there is much reflection, investigation and planning going on to set the path for the next five years, Ms Buckley said.

“This includes the finalisation of some commercialisation plans for some of our new products and services, and continued scoping plans for diversification. The royal commission final report is critical in informing our aged care business and of course any opportunity to lodge any final consultation submissions to the royal commission will be important,” Ms Buckley said.

“We are still in a pandemic, so we are remaining diligent in managing the health and safety of our clients and families. This of course takes resources away from our current projects and strategy.  In saying this, we are moving forward to deliver to our board a 2025 strategy in the New Year.”

Continued investment in workforce, wellbeing

Bolton Clarke CEO Stephen Muggleton also said 2019-20 was defined by keeping clients and residents safe through both the bushfire crisis and the pandemic.

“Our teams across Queensland and NSW did an outstanding job activating a practised emergency response to support at-risk clients during the bushfires,” Mr Muggleton told AAA.

Stehpen Muggleton

“During COVID-19 we implemented protective measures early and have undertaken 138,000 employee screenings, 58,000-plus residential aged care visitor screenings and more than 357,000 pre-screenings of home care clients.”

Apart from a trailing unfunded cost associated with responding to COVID-19, the organisation’s plans have not been impacted. And Bolton Clarke will continue to invest in training for employees to strengthen and grow its workforce in 2020-21, Mr Muggleton said.

“This work will underpin planned growth in our residential aged care, home care and independent living services. We’ll also be accelerating the pace of new work in customer support and health literacy. This includes further development of our digital independence and monitoring solutions and new ways of delivering our free Be Healthy and Active sessions to help people take control of their wellbeing.”

He said addressing social isolation was also an ongoing focus, which include expanding research-based programs like HOW-R-U? – a volunteer-based national social connection project for clients at home – and the Let’s Dig In community gardening project in our residential communities.

Read also: Aged care CEOs share concerns, hopes for 2020-21

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1 Comment

  1. I was curious about the Opal Wellness Centres but it appears it’s focused on the physical through allied health interventions. Presumably such gains will improve one’s mental health, reducing the need for psychological interventions. That’s a plus.

    I’m hoping that strategic decision-making will include support for the mental health of both residents and staff through access to varied mental health professionals.

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