Nov 05, 2020

Regulator subs in casual workers to assess aged care homes

 

More than a quarter of the people who assess aged care homes are casual staff or staff working on short-term contracts, reports say.

While the aged care sector has been under pressure for relying on workers employed in insecure jobs, little has been said of the insecure nature of the regulator’s workforce until now.

But The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission has revealed that 184, or 28 per cent, of its 665 staff are casuals, contractors or employed through labour hire firms, according to a report in The Age.

Nursing agency employs assessors

A recent job advertisement on job platform Seek reveals nursing staffing agency, Programmed Health Professionals, is recruiting casual ‘Senior Quality Assessors’ to conduct quality assessments of aged care homes. 

“We are looking for the right people… who are responsible for assessing and monitoring the performance of individual aged care providers against the Aged Care Quality Standards,” the ad states.

Successful candidates would receive training to receive Registration as a Quality Assessor.

The ad said it would be “highly favourable” for applicants to have experience in regulatory, quality, audit or compliance roles” and “clinical and/or government experience in aged care”. 

The job offered an annual salary of around $80,000 per annum.

Nursing agencies are often paid a commission for recruiting staff and sometimes receive a portion of the worker’s wage too.

Casual staff are “useful”

Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner, Janet Anderson, recently told a senate committee it was sometimes useful to use temporary or casual staff “to fulfil a particular function”, according to The Age.

“Alternatively, we find we can source a skill set in the contracting market that isn’t as available as quickly as recruiting Australian public service staff,” she said.

It has always been thus

Dr Rodney Jilek, managing director, Aged Care Consulting and Advisory Services Australasia, told HelloCare the aged care regulator has always hired a mix of permanent employees and external contractors because aged care assessments tend to occur in “peaks and troughs”.

It’s important aged care assessors have some experience of aged care so they understand the staffing and funding constraints, he said. 

Someone with clinical experience should always be on the team and assess the clinical standards, but clinical experience isn’t necessary to assess all the standards, Dr Jilek said.

Dr Jilek said it can be difficult to determine if aged care homes meet the Aged Care Quality Standards because the standards are so vague and subjective.

For example, for a question such as ‘do you feel safe’, Mr Jilek said it’s “very, very difficult to say yes, you comply”. One assessor might assess a home as answering ‘yes’ for that question, but the next assessor might assess the situation differently and determine it doesn’t meet the standard.

Casual staff often miss out

The commission’s 2019-29 annual report showed Ms Anderson’s salary was $492,000 last year. Six other directors were paid more than $200,000 per annum.

Casual staff usually aren’t paid superannuation, sick leave or holiday pay, and have less job security. Contracts are only short or medium term, and there are lower barriers to terminating contracts.

The commission currently has a ‘staffing cap’ in place, which means it can not employ new staff permanently, but it can hire staff through staff agencies.

The safety of aged care residents

The Shadow Minister for Aged Care, Julie Collins, said aged care assessments should be done by experienced, permanent staff, The Age reported. 

“The safety of older Australians in aged care shouldn’t be left up to workers in insecure employment arrangements,” she said.

 

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