Conjecture regarding the current state of aged care service system is plentiful, and whilst debate rages around some of the proposed solutions, we still have not delved deeply enough into the problems.
In thinking about both the problems in such a system and the potential solutions, it is helpful to have a goal or endpoint in mind. Where is it that we are trying to get to?
I believe we should look beyond industry boundaries which are artificial creations of government and funding arrangements, and first consider what positive and healthy ageing looks like.
What supports are needed by Australians (and when) to ensure we age well, and what does ageing well look like?
In relation to aged care services that support people through ageing, they should be available when you need it, they should be relatively simple to access and not add stress to already busy and demanding lives.
The care received should be informed by your preferences and your needs, be affordable, and always be safe, of high quality and inclusive.
What this looks like in practice, is not homogenous.
And it is here we add another challenge to an already complex jigsaw.
What should ageing look like in this country? How should end stage dementia look and feel like when managed positively and with dignity?
How do our activities after retirement from the workforce impact our ageing experience? How do societal attitude and fears towards ageing impact one’s life journey?
In regard to the current system of aged care services, the community have an expectation of what aged care should be, and they are fairly straightforward in communicating what those expectations are.
People want high quality care that is accessible and reliable, but they want this now, not tomorrow.
Untangling decades of complex system development, policy and bureaucracy will not be easy.
We now have a royal commission which will help delve deeply into the issues to identify their root causes, and begin to work up solutions to the problems, based in evidence and fact.
This may be the once in a lifetime opportunity to set us on a path to positive ageing and sustainable aged care in Australia.
But in isolation of a clear goal, and end point, there is a risk we end up with more of the same.
Reform for reform’s sake, or solutions to issues that do not address the root cause issue. So what should the aged care system of the future look like?
Well let me have a go…
Overall we must work toward a more integrated society where the concept of old and young overlap far more and complement each other rather than contrast, and words like diversity, gender and age mean less as communities and workplaces become more welcoming, inclusive and reflective of the truly diverse makeup of our society.
Underpinning this, we need a service system that works to ensure no one misses out, and everyone is supported to be able to access the opportunity to lead a meaningful life and contribute to society for as long they reasonably can.
And when they can do this no longer, the final time on this earth for any Australian is in the main, peaceful, pain free and dignified.
This system must be supported by clear and sustainable policy and regulation that enables Australians, business and governments to make long term plans and stick to them.
In achieving anything like this, everyone is going to have to adapt.
There will be a fundamentally different role for government for example. Government will either play a much lessor active role in the service system, or will need to evolve to become much more user friendly to the average Australian.
Anyone who like me, has had to navigate the complex and often seemingly penal social service system in Australian knows what I mean.
Such a system would also have a much lower need for peak organisations such as mine, and other representative groups as the direct engagement with Australians by service providers and governments becomes more sophisticated and meaningful.
Finally, the system will have the information available for everyone and the architecture in place to clearly identify success, and rectify problems early.
This will then allow this system to be ready to adapt to what ever new and emerging social challenges present themselves in the future.
Is this utopia? I hope not.
Matthew Richter, CEO, Australian Aged Care Guild