While acknowledging that the aged care sector had “come a long way” in the past 12 months, the quality regulator chief told an industry event last week: “there is much we have not yet done.”
Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner Janet Anderson was addressing delegates on the final day of the national conference of the Aged & Community Care Providers Association in Adelaide – Kaurna Country.
The sector, said Ms Anderson, is operating in an environment of “high expectations” and “significant change.” This, she told delegates, “puts you, and us, and the government under an enormous amount of pressure – and that does not go unacknowledged.”
Speaking in the main hall of the Adelaide Convention Centre – the largest gathering of aged care providers in the southern hemisphere – Ms Anderson said everyone in the room shared the same goal: “We all want older Australians to have a great aged care experience. We all want a thriving aged care sector to enable that to happen.”
Reiterating the commission’s strategy, Ms Anderson said it was to apply a risk-based but proportionate approach to regulation “where we focus on the areas of greater risk and on those providers who are falling short of their various obligations – doing less than their best, for whatever reason.”
She added: “And we seek to promote, through the work we do as a regulator, an aged care system that does genuinely empower consumers, develop safe systems of care, instill a culture of safety and quality, and, critically, learn from mistakes.”
Addressing the quality standards, Ms Anderson drew attention to standard six – feedback and complaints. She told delegates: “If you’re listening to the people you’re providing care for, then there is a much better chance of you getting it right … A provider who is leaning in actively towards their consumers, encouraging them to voice their views about their experiences – good, bad and indifferent – is a better provider.”
Referencing the new governance reforms coming into play for all providers on 1 December – which include the need for providers to establish a quality care advisory body and to offer a consumer advisory body within their organisations – Ms Anderson said: “The people in charge of making the decisions about that organisation are now hearing from the people receiving care.”
The governance reforms also call on providers to submit an annual report to the commission. “The department will be putting on My Aged Care your report of the most common kinds of feedback and complaints received, and key improvements made to services.”
“You get bragging rights,” added Ms Anderson. “We listened, we acted, we improved.”
During her 40-minute speech, Ms Anderson unveiled a new regulatory pyramid, which is aligned with the star ratings system.
“No-one wants to be down, but everyone wants to be up,” she said. “Some people may find themselves down, but the whole point of our regulatory strategy is, if you are veering slightly off track and heading off in the wrong direction entirely, then we’ll give you a nudge.”
Ms Anderson told providers if they ignore the nudge, and if high risks are identified, “we will reach for the power tools.”
“We won’t dawdle,” she said. “We will step in – no fear or favour – because that is our job.”
However, Ms Anderson said data shows that, most of the time, the commission has no need to reach for a regulatory tool.
Echoing the aged care minister’s comments earlier that day, Ms Anderson said: “There have been green shoots of improvement … we are in a better place this year than we were this time last year.”
In closing, Ms Anderson told delegates that the sector was not always going to get things right. “Perfection is not an option. We’re not aiming for perfection; we’re aiming for better.”