Allambie Heights Village Ltd.’ Ciaran Foley: aged care is an essential service, requiring a Royal Commission rewrite

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If you attended the 2019 LEADERS SUMMIT, you will be familiar with Ciarán who gave a passionate presentation on the need for the aged care sector to reframe its relationship with the Government, with providers as the contractor and the Government as the client paying for services.

Starting as an aged care worker in a geriatric hospital in Ireland at the aged of 18, Ciarán arrived in Australia in 2006 where he took up the Chief Executive role at Allambie Heights Village Ltd. On Sydney’s Northern Beaches, transforming the small Not For Profit operation into a profitable co-located retirement village and aged care home.

The Village became ‘Fortress Allambie’ last Tuesday when its aged care home – which has 98% occupancy – went into lockdown. I talked to Ciaran about how they are travelling seven days in.

Ciarán says the lockdown has received overwhelming support from family members, which he puts partly on a three-week transition period where the home gradually restricted visits.

Since the lockdown, the CEO says staff have lifted their creativity even more when it comes to activities for residents – which is in turn helping to keep resident’s spirits high.

“Last Wednesday, I walked into the dining room, and two-thirds of the staff and residents were in fancy dress,” he gave as an example.

Resident Norma as John Lennon

Residents have also been sewing face masks to donate to local health services, while a ‘beauty salon’ is providing manicures and hair styling.

“Remember these people have lived through true crisis,” he said. “This is just another crisis for them.”

However, with 60-plus staff, Ciarán says they are keeping their ‘finger on the pulse’ of staff morale and will be looking to keep challenging them to come up with creative ideas.

Ciarán points to confidence and information being key to maintaining this focus.

“We’re in a fight and that’s the way it is. We’ll win it but it’s just a matter of keeping everyone going,” he said.

“This is an opportunity for people to rise in terms of their leadership ability.”

Communication with families is also a high priority. Allambie staff are assisting residents to speak to family members via a dedicated Skype station, with regular emails being sent to families and photos posted on their website every few days.

“Staff members are actually going to residents’ room at night, the residents with mobile phones to help them to say good night to loved ones,” he added.

“Keep information flowing,” he advised. “It reassures people and that’s important right now.”

The CEO is buoyed by the news that of the 110 aged care homes in northern Sydney (apart from Dorothy Henderson Lodge), there have been no cases of COVID-19.

“It suggests RACF staff are doing an absolutely excellent role in infection control,” he said, “and that’s an amazingly positive story that’s not getting out there.”

But Ciarán is concerned that the Government’s aged care stimulus package has yet to hit the sector.

“We need the Government to give more details on how they will deliver additional funding for the retention of workers and it needs to start hitting bank accounts.”

“All of those costs, we continue to meet those as operators so the details need to be clear and the funds need to start coming fast.”

While Allambie is profitable, the CEO predicts even the most profitable providers will be tested by the current situation – while those who are not will be “exceedingly hurt”.

“We are doing the work on behalf of Australia, on behalf of the Government,” he argues. “We are the contractors and providers and they are the clients. They have to pay up and they have to pay in advance. Suppliers and staff need to be paid and we are a significant part of the economy.”

“I think an explanation will come but time is of the essence. We’re doing all this work – caring is our business – but when 56% of our colleagues struggling with financial constraints and viability they just can’t continue.”

“They are on a lifeline right now and they cannot be expected to continue to fund essential services if they don’t have the money to do so.”

Ciarán does believe the current crisis will benefit the sector in the long-term, however,

“I think what we are going to see is this aged care industry is now claimed to be an essential service,” he concluded. “We haven’t reached that accolade in forever and this is our time. The nation is going to see some amazing examples of the care we have been producing for decades and that not what we’ve seen in the Royal Commission, but I think the Royal Commission is going to have to rewrite what it’s been doing because of what is going to come out of this and that’s a very positive story.”