Above: Feros Care receive their IAHSA Award. L-R: Audrey Weiner, Chair of LeadingAge America, IAHSA board member Christa Monkhouse, Feros Care CEO Jennene Buckley, Feros Care General Manager of Community Services Gabriele Taylor and IAHSA Chair, Glenn Bunny.

By Stephen Easton

An Australian aged care provider has added a prestigious international award to a string of others it has won for developing a highly efficient, centralised model of community care operation, using ordinary communications technology (see video below this article).

Feros Care was presented with the Excellence in Ageing Services Award by the International Association of Homes and Services for the Ageing (IAHSA), in front of audience of about 6,000 at a ceremony held in Washington during the recent IAHSA Global Ageing Conference.

The non-profit provider operates community care services over a 1,000 kilometre stretch of coastal areas centred roughly on the New South Wales-Queensland border, encompassing over 20 local government areas, but all administration and contact with clients is handled from one central hub known as the Community Care Gateway.

Located in Coolangatta, the Gateway sits right in the centre of that operating area, and has reportedly saved the organisation over $1,000,000 a year compared to a less centralised organisational structure, mostly in rent and travel costs.

In 2008, the Gateway won Feros Care awards for excellence in technology from both Aged and Community Services Australia and the Aged and Community Services Association of NSW and the ACT, as well as an Information Technology in Aged Care (ITAC) Award.  

It also made the organisation a finalist for the Aged Care Association Australia information technology award the same year, and earned a high commendation in the Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Aged Care – Innovation in Information Technology category in 2009.

The IAHSA judges said that by halving travel costs and increasing direct care hours by 25 per cent, Feros Care demonstrated the importance of community care, as well as a combination of human and technological resources that was “an excellent model for replication in other communities”.

Feros chief executive, Jennene Buckley, said that as the organisation has grown, it became clear that costs could be saved through a simpler, more efficient administrative structure.

“Traditionally, what used to happen was there was all these different offices in local government areas,” Ms Buckley said. “When Feros started to grow we knew we couldn’t set up all these different offices, so we decided we needed a new model.”

The Gateway holds each client’s electronic health record, and is described as the “organisational backbone” of Feros Care.  It runs all information management and administration systems and handles all communications, from clients, families, staff, referral agencies, service providers, health professionals and funding bodies.

Three smaller regional hubs simply provide a physical location to store equipment and, using video link, to hold meetings with central office staff, which previously required care managers to travel up to 500 kilometres to Coolangatta.

As well as making life easier for clients and potential clients, as well as the Aged Care Assessment Teams, GPs and hospital discharge nurses who refer them to Feros Care, it also makes rostering much more efficient.

Using off-the-shelf technology, it would be easy for other small to medium-sized community care providers to follow suit and achieve similar efficiency gains, Ms Buckley said, without an in-house IT department.

“When we have a new client and we put them into the system, we also log their location in Google Maps,” she explained. “The staff can look at the map and see where the clients are, so they can make sure the staff member has a nice run of clients in close proximity to each other.”

The central hub also broadcasts group messages to staff members out on the road via standard mobile phones and the next goal for the tech-savvy Feros Care is to put tablet computers in the hands of care workers – bypassing smart phones, which the organisation believed did not have a strong enough business case.

Feros Care was one of the first organisations in Australia to embrace telehealth technology, following a self-funded trial in 2010, and its CEO is a passionate advocate for harnessing the power of technology to make aged care more efficient – but only when it is backed up by a strong business case.

“This is just the start of bringing the aged care industry into the modern realm, and we need other care providers and the Federal Government to start embracing innovative technologies,” Ms Buckley said.

“[…] The award is great timing in bring to the forefront the importance of change in aged care. The industry is on the cusp of a significant evolution.”

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