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New Era For Aged Care – Opportunity For Providers To Prepare

25 March 2021

The Final Report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety (the Report) tabled on 1 March 2021, outlined 148 recommendations to address our aged care system – a system that is failing to meet Australian’s expectations of quality and well-governed aged care. Encouragingly the recommendations focus on what can be done to meet those expectations and how the future aged care system can be so much better.

Royal Commissioners, the Honourable Tony Pagone QC and Lynelle Briggs AO stated:

Many of the people and institutions in the aged care sector want to deliver the best possible care to older people, but are overwhelmed, underfunded or out of their depth. We have not set out the problems with the current system gratuitously. We see this as a necessary part of explaining how the future aged care system can and should be so much better.

Despite system failures, the Report also highlighted that there are aged care providers deeply committed to the sector, and some great care experiences being provided to older Australians. A primary driver for the Report’s recommendations is to provide all stakeholders in the aged care sector, the opportunity to improve the consistency and frequency of great care experiences.

With 15+ years’ experience across leadership, change and culture, in this initial discussion, we signpost areas for leaders to consider in a sector facing unprecedented change.

So, what does this mean for leaders in the aged care industry?

In light of the Report’s recommendations, organisational leaders will need to consider the following:

  • a review of their organisation’s vision, culture and strategy;
  • developing a comprehensive understanding of what structures, practices and mindset need to change; and
  • how they can inspire and enable their people to achieve these changes.

Reviewing vision, culture and strategy

The Report’s recommendation for a new approach to quality and safety will be one of the drivers for significant cultural change for the sector. Leaders need to assess the prevailing culture of their organisation and determine whether current quality and safety attitudes, behaviours and performance measures align to and support the Report’s recommendations.

This type of assessment needs to look at not only the espoused behaviours but how the organisation actually approaches and resources quality and safety processes and systems for prevention, detection, as well as incident and complaint handling. This includes looking at things like the willingness of staff to call out behaviours that do not align with stated values and whether all levels of the organisation support this.

Understanding what structures and practices need to change

Leaders need to review current work practices, policies and procedures in light of the shift in policy and future legislation proposed by the Report. Leaders can gain insights by conducting reviews and assessing other industry stakeholders and competitors plus engaging with clients on current service delivery.

Beyond changes within the organisation, leaders may need to strategically consider external factors such as the organisation’s viability in an increasingly competitive market. PwC in Opportunities for a new aged care system have stated that within the industry, players need to consider the role of mergers, acquisitions and partnerships. They anticipate “accelerated provider consolidation will open up growth opportunities for well-capitalised providers and new market entrants” – and for others, the chance to exit.

Inspiring and enabling your people

The Report spent considerable time on the importance of raising skill levels, qualifications and supply of the aged care workforce. The full extent of this focus and impact on future legislation will not be fully known for some time. In the interim, aged care providers will continue to face intense competition when it comes to attracting and retaining talented carers and staff from an undersupplied and maldistributed workforce. To address this challenge, leaders will need to collaborate across the sector and commit to continued improvements in skill levels, qualifications and capability across all parts of the organisation, including leadership.

The Report also reaffirmed the importance of good leadership and culture to provide a necessary foundation for workforce development and growth.  The Commissioners recognised that while this is reinforced through strategies, policies, practices and behaviours, it really begins with “a genuine commitment to the core values and philosophies on which high quality and safe care are built.” Leaders need to prioritise building a culture where people are committed to and have clarity as to how they contribute to the delivery of exceptional service.

Leaders will also need to look at ways to develop a change-ready workforce with a focus on resilience in order to navigate an uncertain and ambiguous industry sector. In addition, leaders will also need to implement an effective communication strategy to drive awareness of the recommendations, why changes are required and what this means for the organisation and staff. Organisations also need full transparency communicated to their staff on how they intend to approach the recommendations, respond, build capability, and how their staff will be supported to make the changes.  

Our Changing Demographics – more of us are getting older

The Report confirms alarming projections of how Australia’s changing demographics will place heavy demands on the aged care sector in the short and long term. To support this projection, the Report states that the number of Australians aged 85 years and over is expected to triple from 515,700 in 2018–19 to more than 1.5 million by 2058. For aged care providers, the upward trajectory reaffirms the necessity for the industry to embrace growth strategies in order to meet future demand and stay viable in a competitive market.

The aged care sector faces considerable uncertainty and ambiguity while awaiting the government’s response to the Commission’s recommendations, in the short-term (May 2021 Budget) and over the longer term when the new Aged Care Act comes into force. In the interim, aged care providers need to start planning now to create a resilient, adaptable and change ready workplace.

At Change2020, we have specific experience in the aged care sector and appreciate the nuances and complexities of this area. We believe that leaders in the aged care industry can learn from industries which have navigated similar sector change, such as Child Care, Aviation, and, more recently, Energy. We can also help you understand ambiguity in an evolving landscape in addition to developing bespoke services across all facets of change.

This initial piece is designed specifically for leaders of aged care facilities to provide a short overview of strategies to consider in light of the Report’s recommendations. In the coming weeks we will publish and share with you a series of articles that will provide further analysis and deeper insights into the challenges, opportunities and what may come next, in a changing aged care landscape.

Kerryn Fewster

Kerryn is the Founder and Director of Change 2020. She has consulted extensively in the area of Transition and Transformation. She places emphasis on strategy development and solution implementation to minimise people and operational impacts associated with major change.

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