Providers have been told by the federal government to calculate their own care minute targets in wake of revelations it has been publishing incorrect data for over a year.
On 1 December, the Department of Health and Aged Care informed providers that “an issue was recently discovered with the transmission of residential care exit and entry records” between Services Australia – custodians of the information – and the department’s systems.
The mistake has “resulted in residential care services’ published care minute targets being either under or over the actual care minutes targets” for some services, and subsequent inaccuracies to the staffing and overall star ratings, the department said.
According to the department, some services “were out by a small margin” and updated calculations show “the majority of care minute targets have changed by less than one minute.”
But that could have been causing some facilities to over-resource nursing and care staff – at a time of an acute workforce shortage – in a bid to meet their mandatory care minutes since 1 October.
“When you say less than one minute for a facility of let’s say 140 beds, we’re talking over hours a day of staff personnel,” Rob Covino – co-founder of aged care consultancy firm Mirus Australia – told Australian Ageing Agenda. “When you break that down, depending on the size of the facility and what that one minute means, it could be a full [registered nurse] shift.”
The department has published the corrected care minute targets for the current quarter and has stressed it is the provider’s responsibility to ensure targets are met.
“[N]otwithstanding the department’s incorrect publication of care minute targets for Q2, approved providers should nevertheless be aiming to meet (or exceed) their care minutes targets.
“We do, however, acknowledge that some approved providers may have relied on the department’s published care minute targets, and we have advised the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission of this administrative error,” it said.
AAA has sought further details from the department including on the number of homes impacted with inaccurate care minute targets or ratings, or unnecessary regulatory attention.
While the department said it is working closely with Services Australia and continuing to review its calculations to ensure accuracy going forward, it has also informed providers that they “are responsible for calculating the care minute targets” for each of their facilities.
The department recommends “providers establish processes to calculate and/or validate their care minutes targets based on their own records, including notified care recipient entries and exits, as at the 15th of the month prior to the commencement of the quarter – for example, the Q2 2023-24 target was calculated on 15 September 2023.”
To assist providers, the department has created a spreadsheet it calls a “care minutes target calculator” for services to work out the total and RN minutes they need to meet.
“The takeaway is that providers need to be in control of their own datasets and have just as much confidence that the figures they have can be reconciled back to the department,” said Mr Covino.
He added: “If [the government] is going to now start to advise the sector that they also need to be undertaking the same checks and balances on the department-driven data from Services Australia, I feel like there’s a wider strategy that needs to be either advocated or taken.”
Describing the administrative error as “a pretty big stuff up,” Mr Covino told AAA that pushing providers to use spreadsheets raises serious security concerns at a time when “we’re trying to drive the sector to be more data secure.”
Mirus Australia – which filed an anomaly ticket to the department when it discovered its care minute calculations for clients didn’t align with the government’s – is calling for a standardised approach to data management. “That’s not a spreadsheet,” said Mr Covino.
On the impact on aged care facilities’ star ratings, Mr Covino said: “Some providers will have missed their anticipated star rating, but it would have been unbeknownst to them.”
This will likely have a “ripple effect” he added. “This is data that the regulator’s relying on – it’s quite far reaching. And this is all part of the royal commission’s recommendation to use these datasets as a proxy to identify safety and quality. So it is a bit of a concern.”
The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission – which assesses a home’s star ratings – will consider the incorrect care minute targets when it reviews risk related to workforce responsibilities and any regulatory response.
Meanwhile, the department will directly contact the aged care homes affected by the error to inform them of the impact caused by the miscalculations and will work with those services who – as a result of the re-calculation – receive a reduced star rating.
Some recalculated care minute targets for the 12-month period are now available on the My Aged Care Service and Support portal. More corrected targets will be made available in the coming weeks.
AAA first reported there were problems with the government’s aged care IT system in July when it was announced that the star ratings preview period had been paused due to an undisclosed issue.
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