Cause for hope: the future of aged care can be a bright one – with the right changes

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A question came across my desk this week that gave me pause for thought: “Aged care is such a bleak area: how do you maintain your enthusiasm?’” Certainly, the aged care sector is a challenging space – but there is also cause for optimism.

When I joined DCM Group more than six years ago, residential care providers were being accused of “gaming” the ACFI funding system. Shortly after, the then-Government began to increase the pressure on providers – regulations were tightened, scrutiny was increased and funding was squeezed, measures that were reflected in declining financial results.

Negative media stories also hammered the sector, including most famously the ABC Four Corners program “Who Cares About Aged Care?” in 2018, just before the Morrison Government bowed to pressure and called a Royal Commission into the quality and safety of Australia’s aged care system.

This was only interrupted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, which had a devastating impact on the country’s residential care homes – an impact that is still felt today despite the introduction of vaccines and the hard work of providers and staff to protect vulnerable residents.

Today, the pandemic, workforce pressures and regulatory reforms continue to weigh heavily.

So, where is the optimism?

A key reflection made by a former CEO turned Board Chair during the Royal Commission was that the Commissioners had only visited a small number of Australia’s aged care services.

Few operators were able to showcase the time and investment that they had put into providing customers and families with a quality service.

Every day, I speak to operators that are implementing new models of care and accommodation, new technologies and new ways of improving the system, not only for their residents but also for their staff.

Aged care still faces strong headwinds ahead as the new Labor Government continues to roll out the Royal Commission reforms as well as its own agenda.

But what is often missed is the opportunities that these reforms will also provide.

There is potential for the funding of Australia’s aged care system, and the roll-out of innovations and integrated care models – and in turn, the quality and safety of care, to be improved.

With the right legislative changes, the new Aged Care Act – still due to be passed mid-next year – could provide a powerful tool to not only enshrine the right to quality care for consumers but also deliver the financial return required to make the system viable for operators and attractive for investors and staff.

It will require strong support from all stakeholders: Government, bureaucrats, providers, peaks and the wider community.

But the long-term benefits will finally deliver on the Royal Commission’s promise of “Care, Dignity and Respect” – not only for the Baby Boomers but also for future generations of Australians.

The business of ageing – as we call it – remains, for me, one of the most exciting areas in which to work – and one with plenty of reason for hope.

As mentioned in today’s newsletter, I will be taking some time out over the next few months.

I will be leaving you in the capable hands of the DCM editorial team – and your feedback, queries or leads can still be sent through to editor@theweeklysource.com.au.

We do enjoy hearing from our readers, so keep the comments coming.

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