Providers sceptical of home care reform

The continued delays by government is a real concern for the sector, says an industry report.

Providers are increasingly questioning whether a new model of home care will ever be implemented, according to a report from Enkindle Consulting.

That’s one of many findings gleaned from a survey conducted by the aged care consultancy firm earlier this year.

“The commentary presents a growing level of scepticism and doubt about whether in fact we will see a new Support at Home,” Jennene Buckley – Enkindle Consulting director – told Australian Ageing Agenda. “The continued delays and date changes by government is now a real concern for the sector.”

Providers said they were having to plan for the change “in the dark” due to a lack of information on the new model. With the implementation date delayed twice – a new commencement target has been slated for 1 July 2025 –  respondents said it was exceedingly difficult to make strategic decisions.

“Although we are aware of the general concepts spoken about in webinars, we have no definitive information or final design that can be used for strategic decision-making, future modelling or implementation planning,” said a respondent.

“The government is always crying wolf,” said another. “It’s on again; it’s off again!” 

As a result, say the report’s authors, “providers expressed a growing lack of confidence in the government’s capacity to design a future-thinking sustainable home care model.”

Jennene Buckley

Ms Buckley told AAA that sector confidence will only grow once the government delivers some clear implementation and transition timelines.

“With only 13 months to 1 July 2025, it really needs to occur now to give providers and technology vendors any hope in readying their systems, people and processes,” she said.

The lack of information is also impacting board readiness, said Ms Buckley. “To say we are working in a heightened state of uncertainty in home care is an understatement.”

Respondents also expressed a sense of relief at the latest delay, with almost 65 per cent reporting they approved of the program’s deferment. “Transitioning the entire home care system overnight was a huge risk to older Australians, but also providers and government too,” said a respondent.

Ms Buckley said the delay offered providers the opportunity – if resources and funds allow – to focus on the following priorities:

  • workforce planning and strategy
  • client experience
  • governance – including clinical
  • efficiency
  • digital capability and innovation.

“These five areas will set providers up for long-term success,” she said.

Despite the misgivings over Support at Home, almost 57 per cent of providers believe the new model will open up new opportunities.

These include:

  • opportunities for growth in service footprint, products and services
  • innovative partnerships and alliances in referral and service provision
  • continuity of care with current clients not needing to switch providers when their care needs change.

Workforce remains the key industry challenge

Elsewhere, the 29-page Home Care Provider Outlook Report – the second of its kind – shows that, once again, workforce shortages topped the list as the biggest problem facing home care providers.

Source: Enkindle Consulting

“Workforce remains the key industry challenge, reflected in responses to every question throughout this report,” say the authors. Indeed, 36 per cent of the 340 respondents rated staff shortfall as the single biggest challenge facing the industry in 2024.

“Low wages, staff burnout, Covid-19, natural disasters, and poor industry brand have all contributed to workforce shortages,” say the authors.

The respondents – all home care leaders – also cited recruitment and retention as an ongoing challenge for the sector. “According to many providers, the cost to recruit, develop, and retain staff and ensure staff wellbeing needs are being met has increased significantly, putting additional viability pressure on in-home care providers,” say the report’s authors.

Turning to technology, almost 75 per cent of providers surveyed reported that their home care IT platform fails to meet their organisation’s needs. Affordability and lack of financial resources to implement new technologies was a key barrier to providers upgrading their tech.

“The availability of affordable IT solutions to efficiently meet the changes required is causing stress and difficulties in preparing budgets for the reform implementation,” said a respondent.

“There was also a sentiment that the current offerings by vendors on the market, in terms of functionality, do not meet all the needs of in-home aged care providers,” say the report’s authors.

Ms Buckley told AAA she hoped the findings contained in the report will provide insights to policy makers on the key challenges and priorities of home care providers. 

“Noting the Support at Home and the new Act is the next major piece of reform, we hope it gives providers a voice. I know individual providers are sharing the report with their board, giving them insights into the market which they operate in,” she said. “It also confirms their issues are shared, and their challenges are shared. I hope 2025 presents a shift in views, and some momentum as we move forward, and details are provided on the reform.”

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Tags: enkindle, home care, jennene buckley,

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