With the uncertainty of a federal election now behind us and the dust well and truly settled after a lengthy Royal Commission, two of Australia’s most influential aged care peak bodies have come together in the hopes of affecting positive change with the strength of one unified voice for provider advocacy.
After overwhelming support from members of both groups, Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) and Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) will be disbanded in July, making way for the newly formed Aged & Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA), which will officially launch on July 1.
After being officially appointed the interim CEO of ACCPA last week, Paul Sadler – who will remain the CEO of ACSA until July 1 – sat down with HelloCare to discuss the historic merger.
“One of the key reasons for the unification was that it was actually recommended by the Commissioners as part of the Aged Care Royal Commission,” said Mr Sadler.
“They looked at what had happened with reforming the aged care sector over the past couple of decades and they identified that one of the things that had impeded our ability to get sustainable aged care reform, being the interests of older people, was the fact that the provider sector had been divided.
“So the call from the Commissioners was, ‘Provider sector, you need to get your act together, you really need to come together with one voice both to government and to the broader community.’ And that’s what we have done.”
He also believes that the broader aged care sector is in favour of both peak bodies coming together.
“What we want to do now is to make sure that the provider voice – in the interests of older people, not in the self-interest of the providers themselves – is now going to be heard strongly. That we’re a strong partner with [the] government, consumers, unions and professional groups in carving out a new and better future for aged care in Australia.”
From an internal standpoint, both Mr Sadler and new chair of ACCPA, Dr Graeme Blackman, are currently overseeing the onboarding staff within ACCPA’s new structure.
Publicly, ACCPA will be focussing its advocacy on four key pillars of improvement for the aged care sector, the first of which is resetting engagement with government and the broader sector in the hopes of yielding more respectful and constructive collaboration.
“Unfortunately, in the past, there [have] been comments from people in public forums that say that providers have controlled the agenda for too long and that now everything is about the consumer, but that’s not a constructive paradigm,” said Mr Sadler.
The next area of focus for ACCPA is strengthening Australia’s aged care workforce, which has traditionally struggled to attract new staff – the effects of which have been worst felt in Australia’s rural communities.
With the newly elected Labor government planning to mandate that all nursing homes require a registered nurse onsite 24 hours a day from July 2023, Mr Sadler noted that 80% of aged care homes currently have 24-hour nursing coverage, but those that don’t are largely smaller services in rural areas.
“The challenge of finding and attracting staff to come and live in rural communities will not be insubstantial,” said Mr Sadler.
“From our point of view as ACCPA, we will be wanting to engage positively, because we think it’s a good idea to improve the amount of staff available, but we’ve got to be very careful that regulatory requirements sitting around this don’t inadvertently mean that services have to close.”
Advocacy regarding the need for financial stability in the sector will also be a priority for ACCPA, highlighted by deficits that were outlined in a recent report by the University of Technology Sydney.
The final area of key improvement for ACCPA will be improving the quality of care, which was highlighted as the most critical issue facing aged care residents throughout the Royal Commission.
“Some of the keys to improving aged care will include the current aged care reforms, as well as ACCPA’s active engagement with the sector regarding new standards, how we do star ratings publicly and how we can get more hours of care delivered on the ground.
“These will all be priorities for us to work with the incoming government around.”
The need for greater transparency from providers regarding financing and care delivery was flagged during the Royal Commission as contributing to a lack of accountability in the aged care sector.
According to Mr Sadler, ACCPA agrees that providers need to be more transparent and they will look to address these issues as part of resetting engagement with government and industry stakeholders.
“We recognise that we need to be transparent about the finances we receive, this is public money coming into aged care. We also need to be transparent about the way in which our systems are set up in terms of things like complaints and how we handle quality,” said Mr Sadler.
“If measures that are about greater transparency mean we take staff away from looking after older people to just be filling in pieces of paper, that’s not actually an outcome in the interests of older people.”
Manual data collection by aged care staff was a hot topic at last week’s Digital Health Festival in Melbourne, highlighted by a speaker who stated that “spot checks are killing the sector” and claimed that staff spend up to 30% of their time reporting.
This equates to almost one entire shift consisting of only paperwork out of every three shifts on the floor.
“We need to work alongside government, consumers and stakeholders to understand how we can change that with better technology, so we can capture information as we go, at [the] point of delivery at the bedside, so that we can be more transparent without overburdening staff,” said Mr Sadler.
“Often, the view of the staff is that the expectations that are placed on them are pretty unreasonable, and they can’t see the benefit of it, because it doesn’t directly help them provide better care.”