Apr 13, 2022

Could one word change an entire industry?

Could one word change entire industry

Now think about that person in the last stage of their life in an aged care home because they need love, care and support.

Now think about the aged care home owner referring to them as a ‘bed’.

It doesn’t feel right, does it? That a vulnerable older person you love is being referred to in such a dehumanising way as if they’re just an object in a system.

For those of you who may not be aware, that’s how Australia’s residential aged care sector refers to the older people we are entrusted to care for.

That’s right – older people are referred to as ‘beds’.

I’ve been thinking about this lately. I’ve been thinking about myself as the leader of a growing aged care provider. I’ve been thinking about other providers and their growth and operating strategies. And I’ve been thinking about how we ended up with a Royal Commission into Aged Care.

The industry still doesn’t seem 100% right to me.

Don’t get me wrong. Most aged care providers provide excellent care, and you can go to any of Respect’s homes and randomly ask a resident how they like it there, and they’ll tell you it’s great. But the sector is still talking the same as before the Royal Commission; and if it’s still talking the same, it’s still thinking the same, and if it’s still thinking the same, it’s still doing the same.

One of the most obvious things to me is that many providers still have the same mentality around bed numbers. It hasn’t changed. In board rooms around the country, growth targets and operational strategies are set around bed numbers. What is our development pipeline with how many beds? How many beds is viable? What’s the perfect size of a home in terms of beds? What providers have what bed numbers?

Following the rapid growth of Respect, I get asked a lot now, things like: How many beds do you want? How many beds do you have now? What is your bed numbers strategy? What is your target number of beds?

It would be easy for me to get swept up in this “growing provider”, “big provider” club and all the bed talk, but there’s a very severe problem with this thinking – we’re not looking after beds! We’re looking after highly vulnerable older people, people’s older loved ones and the people who built and created the society we now have the privilege to live in.

How many grandparents do you want? How many grandparents do you have now? What is your grandparent numbers strategy? What is your target number of grandparents?

It sounds wrong, doesn’t it?

Can you see how this one simple word could contribute to a problem so big it needed a Royal Commission?

I don’t think it’s hard to see that if you’re using arms-length and dehumanising language to refer to the people you’re caring for as if they’re a pawn in a boardroom game of chess, how this might end up with actions that lead to the wheels falling off.

I believe this thinking is a big problem in the sector, and it’s a problem I’ve resolved myself by replacing the word bed with the word grandparent in my thoughts and heart when I need to make strategic decisions.

If I have to think about growth, I don’t think about how many beds should be the goal. I think about how many grandparents should be the goal – and if that is the goal, then I’d unquestionably need to have more grandparents because more grandparents deserve better care, not because Respect needs more ‘beds’!

If I think about grandparents and not beds, we grow with the real mission baked into that growth – that we must care for more older people because they deserve better care. If Respect comes to your community, the care must be better than before we arrived, otherwise we’ve failed.

If you’re an aged care provider, and you can’t say you’re doing that, then pack it in because older people don’t need you, that community doesn’t need you, and the sector doesn’t need you. No one needs your beds – they need your care.

I know people aren’t using the word beds with bad intentions, and I still use it if I’m factually talking about things (so I’m not being silly about it all). But I’d challenge all leaders in our industry: When you’re thinking about growth, plans, and strategy, ditch the word beds in your hearts and minds, and embrace a word that reflects what we’re all trying to do –  provide better care for older loved ones who deserve that care.

Could one word change an entire industry? Is language that powerful?

I believe it is.

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  1. Yes they need our care. Beautiful ❤️ people I learn so much about my self trough them. My heart crying every time I am on shift. Absouletly they deserve the best.

  2. Its a business – each bed has a different value depending on who is in it. There are too many variables. People dont know there ar different prices on different beds – the issue is not so much what we call each place but how deceptive it all is to the unknowing families.

  3. In over 25 years in the industry, I have never heard a provider refer to an elder as a “bed”. Perhaps that says more about the writer’s organisation than it does about the industry. I agree the terminology we use is critically important, but I have always found using the name the elder themselves wants is the best approach.

  4. Hooray
    Yes people are humans that is why as a nurse / Diversional Therapist it was my privilege to share with permission who the person was and is , past being important especially if they had dementia or where difficult to understand.
    Whole person must be understood to be able to care for them.
    It goes beyond medicine , feeding, bathing,
    It is the human inside the body who needs the care .
    Goes back to not only training for body functions
    But their sole so they can be at peace in there now. HOME. Not bed.

  5. What absolute rubbish. I am on the Board of two Aged Care providers (NFP) and I have never heard this sort of conversation – we talk about our “residents” (they and we don’t like the word consumers) and we talk about the people we care for. We do talk about occupancy because that is the reality of staying financially viable so that we can continue to provide care in the future, and when we built a new building we knew how many bedrooms we were going to provide. But we don’t refer to our residents as beds. That’s just weird!

  6. The same arguments apply to the word “industry”. An industry in my mind is a manufacturing organisation which uses a conveyor belt as a production line, The better term is “aged care sector”.
    I note that a number of providers are now quietly adopting that change. I applaud them.

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