The quality of care provided to aged care consumers depends on the quality of working conditions in an organisation, new research confirms.

A major project involving three universities, three aged care providers and a union has identified the key “fault lines” in working conditions across the sector and demonstrates how these directly impact care outcomes.

The project developed and trialled a series of interventions that successfully enhanced working conditions in both residential and community care, which are now being made freely available for providers to use.

The Quality Jobs Quality Care toolkit gives providers a structured process to implement and review small changes that can improve conditions for their staff.

The interventions include:

  • the use of specialist dementia care teams
  • providing regular scheduled hours
  • a care worker mentoring program
  • the use of “learning shifts,” and
  • collaborative person-centred care.

The University of South Australia partnered with Flinders and RMIT universities and industry partners HammondCare, Brightwater, Helping Hand and United Voice in the three-year project.

It involved focus groups with frontline workers, an analysis of the key issues raised in the sector’s national workforce census and a review of the existing research on consumers’ perspectives on quality care.

While recent reforms in aged care have focused on issues such as funding and consumer choice, the conditions for workers in the sector remained “the missing piece of the jigsaw,” said Professor Sara Charlesworth, one of the lead investigators.

“It’s important we focus on the conditions of work in the sector because the conditions of work ultimately are the conditions of care,” Professor Charlesworth told Australian Ageing Agenda yesterday as the findings were launched.

Given direct care workers are the majority of the aged care workforce, helping aged care organisations to provide quality jobs and career pathways was critical, she said.

Among the key issues that frontline workers raised were:

  • low pay
  • not enough time to provide meaningful, quality one-on-one care
  • lack of access to training and career opportunities.

“Many feel there isn’t enough staffing and so they’re rushing from resident to resident and are not able to give them the time they want,” said Professor Charlesworth.

Similarly, consumers often reported that the time care workers had available to spend with them was critical to the provision of quality care.

Interventions trialled by providers

The issues raised by workers and consumers informed the workplace interventions that were then trialled by the aged care providers participating in the project.

One intervention saw a provider implement “specialist dementia care teams” which aimed to provide consistent care for community care clients living with dementia.

The group of workers who joined the team felt they had sufficient time, flexibility and support to provide quality care to the clients, said Professor Charlesworth.

Another provider implemented a peer mentoring program, so frontline workers had a colleague they could go to for support and advice, or to raise issues or concerns with, she said.

New project getting underway  

Professor Charlesworth and her co-investigator Associate Professor Deb King from Flinders University now plan to build on the findings from the project in a major new study funded by the Australian Research Council.

Along with international colleagues, they plan to identify promising aged care workplace practices across Australia, New Zealand, Scotland and Canada.

“We want to look at what interesting things those countries are doing and what we can learn from each other,” she said.

That new study, which is a three-year project, gets underway in July.

Access the Quality Jobs Quality Care toolkit here

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