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Spiritual care and the new aged care quality standards

How can an aged care setting completely care for someone at every level of their being?

The Aged Care Quality Standards will take effect from July 2019. They represent an interesting turn in federal legislation. Their novel approach begins each standard with consumer outcomes in the first-person, such as ‘I am treated with dignity and respect and can maintain my identity. I can make informed choices about my care and services and live the life I choose’ or ‘I get the services and supports for daily living that are important for my health and well-being and that enable me to do the things I want to do’ (Standards 1 & 4).

Aged care providers will face the interesting prospect of being audited in terms of the extent to which clients and residents can say, ‘Yes, that’s how it has been for me.’ This new emphasis upon the subjective experience of consumers, rather than on mere procedural compliance, will seem nerve-wracking for managers and boards. But it will train us always to ask: am I setting the conditions under which this person will prosper? That has always been the key test for any good work, beyond our preoccupations with fulfilment, reputation and consumption.

The new standards also require organisations to provide access to services promoting ‘emotional, spiritual and psychological well-being’ (Standard 4(3)(b)). But for all sorts of reasons, provision of spiritual services has become fraught and bewildering. At very least, it is way outside the comfort zone of many managers.

How can spiritual care be made doable within harried aged care settings? It turns out that adept spiritual care is good for clients and workplaces, when offered respectfully by people who understand the sector. It becomes an essential part of total care—that is, care for every level of a client’s or resident’s being.

Good spiritual care includes the basics of careful listening, quiet presence, and insights into matters of ultimate meaning. Good spiritual carers also work collaboratively and respectfully with other carers. The best spiritual carers offer management low cost, organisation-wide ideas that contribute to harmonious and flourishing workplaces.

Even if our own experience of things ‘spiritual’ has been patchy, in the diversity of multicultural Australia it isn’t possible to turn a blind eye to this aspect of care, especially under the new standards. But access to good spiritual care needn’t be a hassle when the new standards come. There are ways to offer it that will be good for everyone.

Charles Sturt University offers graduate degrees in ageing and pastoral studies through its Canberra-based School of Theology partner, St Mark’s National Theological Centre. The courses are delivered flexibly, online and at low cost. Learners are coached in how to respond to emotional and spiritual care needs of diverse people in later life, whether of traditional faiths or of none.

About the Author

Reverend Dr Andrew Cameron is the Director of St Mark’s National Theological Centre, teaching on ethical issues for people in later life and for health-care professionals.

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