By Yasmin Noone
More than $10 million of federal government money will go towards funding 26 aged care projects designed to enable a challenged sector-wide workforce to better cope with the pressures of an ageing population.
The projects, funded through the Health Workforce Australia Aged Care Workforce Reform package, will focus on improving the integration of the aged care workforce with mainstream community services like GPs, pharmacists and allied health professionals.
The new workforce programs will also extend over four key areas identified as being in need of greater assistance and coordination. These include safe medication management in the community; residential aged care; preventing functional decline in the community; and complex care coordination in the community.
Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, said the funding will help enable aged care workers of the future to be as highly skilled as possible.
“As part of up-skilling workers and job redesign, many of the projects will train workers who support aged care residents ..to identify health and wellbeing issues early,” Minister Butler said.
“Right now, older people can see multiple professionals on multiple sites with little communication and coordination between them and these projects will aim to better align and coordinate services.”
All projects have been funded to implement evidence of workforce reform and determine what supports will be required to sustain the change and drive national uptake.
A comprehensive evaluation of the projects will be undertaken to see how workforce reforms can be adopted nationally.
A local focus posing a national solution
The funding recipient list exceeds 20 organisations from around the country and includes a state peak body, not-for-profit and private aged care providers, a local area health service, a nursing service and a university.
The first project, Building Workforce Capacity for Complex Care Coordination in the Community, aims to build workforce capacity in community aged care services operating throughout south-west Sydney to deliver a new model for provision and management of complex care.
Partners include HammondCare’s Braeside Hospital, SWS Medicare Local and the UNSW School of Public Health and Community Medicine, which will provide an internal evaluation of the project as it develops an innovative, evidence-based, sustainable workforce model.
Led by HammondAtHome’s general manager, Sally Yule (pictured above), the project will help area-wide community care staff to cope with an increased workload burden.
“Older people want to live at home but as they live at home longer, their complexity of care increases,” Ms Yule said.
“We, just as every aged care provider has noticed that.
“So, how can we better use our resources to improve workforce capacity over the next 10 years?
“We aim to [find that out] in this project through complex care coordination.”
Ms Yule said the project aims to tackle a number of workforce issues including the lack of connectivity between the resources available in one specific geographical area.
“There are a lot of resources out there that are not connected but if they were connected, we’d get better results when caring for people in the community.”
For example, she said explaining the range of services the project will target, Medicare locals, GPs, local health district services, consumer representative groups and all the different aged care services.
“Often, the left doesn’t know what the right is doing.
“So part of this project is to train a resources complex health partnership advisor, who will work with our teams of providers in south-west Sydney to provide expert input in a connected way and connect all the other resources in the area.”
The project will identify gaps in current workforce structures; reinvigorate connectivity in complex health coordination in community settings and redesign workforce models by establishing where change is needed; and challenge traditional work allocation to better utilise enhanced skills.
Ms Yule also believes that a more connected workforce will make for a more attractive industry.
“Every organisation in the aged care sector has got pretty significant workforce challenges ahead of us in the next decade in terms of demand for services.
“We are going to need people and skilled people. But we have limited resources. Not unlimited resources. So we need to use them better and better and work on productivity. We also need to be an industry that people want to work in.
“The better we get at building workforce capacity in positive ways, the easier it will be to attract and keep staff as an industry.”
The two other funded projects – Re-enabling Aged Care Teams (REACT) and Focus on Function – will be led by the HammondCare and UNSW’s Hammond Chair of Positive Ageing and Care, A/Prof Chris Poulos.
REACT will focus on workforce redesign in residential care to increase capacity and effectiveness and examine how teams work together within residential aged care and will develop models to enhance their effectiveness.
Focus on Function will reduce functional decline of older people in the community through improved skills, expertise and knowledge for care support workers.
A/Prof Poulos said the importance of these aged care workforce reform projects could not be under-estimated as an ageing population sees more and more people in need of care at the same time as Australia faces workforce shortages in this area.
“We need to get beyond the model that when an older people declines in function we just go in and provide services or opt for residential care. Rather we need to equip our whole aged care workforce to improve people’s function, delay progression of decline and help them to be less reliant on care as they stay in their own homes for as long as possible.
“In order to do this we need to improve the capacity of our care support workforce to play a greater role, and make the best possible use of the professional health workforce such as nurses, doctors and allied health professions.
“Not only will this provide better outcomes for older Australians, it will also enrich the job satisfaction of this vital workforce sector which traditionally has a high turnover rate.”