Aged Care- Are We Asking the Right Questions?

In light of the announcement of a Royal Commission, and on the heels of a disturbing 4 Corners program, it is clear that the aged care industry faces some material challenges.

Australians want answers to the problems they are seeing, and in response to what many in the community see as seemingly simple questions, they either receive no answers, or answers so long winded and complicated that they yield no resonance to the public.

Frustration with this kind of rhetoric is evident.  

While the search for answers continues, fingers are being pointed in all directions, and the distrust of established institutions grows.

Never has there been a more important time for leaders in aged care to step forward and delve deeply into the hard issues, while simultaneously communicating this with their community in a meaningful manor.

And this is why the Australia’s Aged Care Guild has never had a more important role to play.

The Aged Care Guild is an association formed by some of the largest private residential aged care providers in Australia.

We work to advocate and promote a sustainable aged care system, while delivering consumer choice and providing a platform for thoughtful leadership that will drive effective industry development and innovation.

With over 43,000 staff spread across close to 400 facilities, Guild members deliver care to more than 32,000 Australians every day, equating to more than 10 million bed days of care per year.

Providing this level of care to Australia’s most vulnerable citizens is a prodigious responsibility, and it’s one that we take very seriously.

The vast majority of care given throughout the year is incredibly good and delivered by dedicated and supportive staff in a safe and contemporary environment, but unfortunately things can go wrong in a human services environment on rare occasions.

We look to utilize instances where community expectations are not being met, as learning opportunities that we can grow from.

The Guild is working hard to set high benchmarks for care within the sector, a sector that is being strangled by unsustainable funding metrics, and continued political uncertainty, but this is not enough.

A new discussion is required, one that hopefully the Royal Commission can promote. This country needs to have a meaningful discussion about ageing, what it means, and how we support each other as we age.

We need to better align the public expectations for aged care, with what the system is structured to provide. Most importantly we need to peel the layers back on the issues that arise, to clearly understand the contributing factors.

And we need to be ready to accept that many of the problems we face start manifesting long before we ever enter aged care, and we need to talk about death.

Simply looking at the aged care sector alone, without considering the political, economic and social context within which this industry exists will yield little benefit.

Neither will simplistic excuses that are often thrown around, like profiteering, that gain popular attention in the media, but are supported by little broad-based evidence and are often offensive to our dedicated staff.

Private providers will continue to face a number of these negative stigmas and misconceptions, but the Guild will work to utilise our influence, and gradually change this perception by acting as a spearhead for positive change for the industry, and a driver of meaningful discussion.

Private providers have an important role in a system that is underpinned by a principle of consumer choice.

Just as Australians in most cases enjoy the privilege of choosing an education institution, or a medical provider, consumers should be able to choose the type of residence they would like to live out their life in when they can no longer remain at home.

A diversity of provider types is required in the market to support this. Large private providers also play a critical role in efficiently delivering the much needed capital this industry needs to support future demand.

So how do we develop simple answers to the community’s questions in this blame driven politicised environment. I’m not sure we can, but we must try.

The former UK ambassador to the United Nations once said: ‘How a Society Treats its Most Vulnerable is Always the Measure of its Humanity.

This makes me wonder if we have an aged care problem, or a problem with ageing. What I am sure of, is that the aged care system is not and will never be a panacea. Unfortunately, aged care will never become a cure for all social problems we associate with ageing.

But it should be something that is available when the community needs it, it should be safe, high quality, and simple to access. And we know that in too many cases, it is not all of these things.So, the challenge is before us all. The government, aged care providers, consumers, and the broader community all have a key role to play.

By Matthew Richter, CEO, Aged Care Guild


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