Call for strengthened voice to government

The broad aged services sector needs to speak to government with a single voice that is consolidated, professional, clear on the mandates and represents providers and consumers, the CEO of a leading provider has said.

Craig Mills
Craig Mills

The broad aged services sector needs to speak to government with a single voice that is consolidated, professional, clear on the mandates and represents providers and consumers, the CEO of a leading aged care provider has said.

Whether stakeholders could bring that consolidated voice about, and in particular, whether providers could align with consumer preferences, would “make or break” the future relevance of the industry. Stakeholders should ask themselves what the process of sector representation would look like if it had to start afresh.

That’s according to Craig Mills, chief executive officer of RSL Care, who was speaking to Australian Ageing Agenda following his nomination in the Executive of the Year Awards which take place next week.

Mr Mills was appointed CEO of RSL Care in March last year, having initially joined the organisation as a consultant in February 2012. RSL Care is a major not-for-profit provider of retirement living and aged care, with 29 retirement communities in Queensland and NSW.

Mr Mills said that while the National Aged Care Alliance (NACA), which represents aged services providers, consumers and related professional groups, currently provided a “good voice to government”, the body needed a “more formal structure and approach.”

He suggested NACA should be the “one and only voice” through which the broad sector speaks to government, rather than individual members lobbying government outside the process, as many do now.

Currently there was a “fractuous nature” to the broad sector, which enabled the Federal Government to divide and conquer the stakeholders, he said.

“The Food and Grocery Council has a very strong voice to government and they get things done because they’re a single voice – representing suppliers, retailers, the various providers. Here we have some conflict between for-profit and not-for-profits; we’re in the same industry.”

Mr Mills said he was not necessarily calling for a merger of the for-profit and not-for-profit aged care peak bodies, but rather “a single voice, whatever that looks like.”

“Building a reputable single face… Not just the consumer point of view, and not just the provider point of view, but an industry, sector point of view.”

Sector needs new perspectives

Mr Mills, who has been a CEO and board director of food, agribusiness and engineering companies during the past 16 years, said aged care would benefit from more leadership from outside the sector. “Other sectors have gone through what the aged care sector is going through now,” he said.

“From a leadership point of view, I have been able to ask all the silly questions, and to be fair I’ve had some silly answers, I have had some industry entrenched answers. I’m asking, why does it need to be like that?”

The sector needed leaders who could be flexible and adaptable, could break the mould, and had the courage to make bold decisions to align to the customer, he said.

“Leadership will be crucial in this and predominantly it won’t be from within. There are some very forward thinking leaders in the industry without doubt, and we have been working with those people, but they’re the minority I would think.”

Mr Mills said providers were too reliant on government funding, which will diminish over time proportionally per consumer. “It’s very important we have to work with government, but we can’t continue to be 100 per cent reliant and run from one funding to stream another, we have to find other avenues for revenue. The only way you can do that is add value to the client, and they’re willing to pay for that value.”

‘Disrupting’ his organisation, the sector

The board of RSL Care had just approved the organisation’s new business model, which was focussed on wellness and independence, Mr Mills said.

Its development was based on extensive research the organisation conducted with 2,000 seniors, who were not clients, to understand their requirements, fears and desires going forward.

“That got us thinking about guiding people to get the most out of life through wellness and independence, which was the key message. We were very good carers, but people want more, they want greater guidance and personalised services.”

The business model includes a focus on planning and prevention, which involves supporting people in their 50s – a project the provider is trialling for six months with clients. The model also includes a focus on maintaining health and wellbeing, by strengthening physical and emotional resolve. There is a focus on rehabilitation and restoration, particularly for those recovering from an injury or illness, as well as maintenance, which might involve care in the home to continue that rehabilitation, he said.

Cultural change within the organisation was ultimately what would drive the new model, he said. “It’s moving from the mindset of ‘we’ll do it to you’ and that ties in with CDC component. To me, CDC is a not a process or system, it’s a philosophy of how we take our people on that journey.”

Mr Mills said the focus on wellness and independence would run across the three lines of the organisation’s business – home care, residential and retirement living.

Implementing the program required structural changes to the staffing model, he conceded. “We’ve been disrupting our staff for the last couple of years. You can’t disrupt an industry and be prepared for that unless you disrupt yourself. So there has been a lot of changes in terms of getting the business fit for the fight going forward.”

Ultimately change needed to be sustainable, Mr Mills said. “I keep saying to the executive team, my belief is that if we’re not doing it, it will be done to us, and we don’t want to be in that position. We have a lot of experience in care, how do we tailor that to those [customer] segments and not look at it as mass market, because it’s not.”

Mr Mills is a finalist in two categories in the Executive of the Year Awards, ‘CEO of the Year’ and ‘Not-for-Profit Executive of the Year’. The awards will be announced next Thursday.

Tags: Craig Mills, naca, rsl-care,

3 thoughts on “Call for strengthened voice to government

  1. “To me, CDC is a not a process or system, it’s a philosophy of how we take our people on that journey.”

    With those few words, Craig has zeroed in on the fundamental issue of everything good and bad about the current CDC policies and practices. I think he is totally correct and it is certainly refreshing to see that a sector leader is sufficiently confident in his beliefs to make such public statements as this one. Well done Craig Mills and RSL Care. There are plenty of people around who need to swallow a ‘reality pill’ and take careful and considered notice of Craig’s comments

  2. Unfortunately, service providers can have a conflict of interest, if asked to speak on behalf of consumers. They can’t be impartial and consumers must have an independent voice.

  3. Customer directed care (CDC) is fine; if the funding stream was direct to the customer and the customer or customer’s agent had discretion to spend on community care or residential care…but we have that now with various organisations as proxy for the customer or customer’s agents. CDC is really about the relationship between the funder and the customer in terms of the perception of power and choice. Shortages in provider services will not go away with CDC but limited choices may become more limited if those shortages are not addressed outside economic modelling where it is acceptable for limited supply to attract higher prices.
    Another aspect of CDC is it permits and encourages care staff to take a step back from personal involvement with clients and simply deliver the best care they can in response to client requests. A risk is the client who asks best will receive the best service. Aged frail and the cognitively impaired will be increasingly reliant on their advocates (who in the first instance in many cases are their direct volunteer or paid carers). That is the case now.
    The important part of a move towards a philosophy of CDC is it may permit customers, their agents and advocates to grasp an opportunity to take a greater part in decisions which may affect them for many years to come and it give providers a chance to grasp and implement the concept of individualised care. It seems Mr Mills is moving in the right direction though I wonder if the industry would be a better consultant to government if contracts went through a peak industry body rather than direct to industry members. Perhaps it would.

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