New aged care navigators will need to be independent of providers, report finds

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Helping older Australians navigate the aged care system works – but the workforce needs to be professional, independent of aged care providers and designed with the end user in mind, according to the final evaluation of the COTA-led trials.

The 227-page report – plus 83 pages of appendices – was undertaken by Australian Healthcare Associates (AHA) and is based on analysis of data collected from the trials between 28 February 2019 and 5 February 2021.

As we reported here, the trials began in February 2019 with three programs – an Information Hub, Community Hub and Specialist Support Worker (SSW) trials – being delivered by a consortium of 30 partner organisations led by COTA Australia and has been extended to June 2021, while the fourth trial program – the Financial Information Service (FIS) Officer trials – was delivered by the Department of Human Services (DHS) and wrapped up in October 2019.

Three key principles

The final evaluation is long – but well worth a read.

You can download the report here.

The report highlights the need for three key principles that should underpin a national aged care navigation service, namely:

1. Aged care navigation services should be operated by a professional workforce (supported, where appropriate, by trained volunteers).

2. Navigation services should, where possible, be independent of aged care service providers in order to provide impartial advice (exceptions may apply in ‘thin’ markets such as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander services).

3. Aged care navigation services should be designed with the end user in mind, taking into account:

  • need for flexible approaches to engage with individuals, while adhering to a clear scope of practice
  • holistic needs of individuals (not limited to aged care services), including linkages and partnerships, if not integration, with other services and organisations
  • importance of trusted relationships in engaging and supporting people from vulnerable and/or hard-to-reach populations

The report finds that providing or managing navigator services through a distributed network of offices has the potential to utilise local knowledge and networks.

However, there will still be a continued need for ‘grassroots’ local community support –particularly for vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations who may be less likely to engage with individuals and organisations they don’t know as a first point of contact.

The report also noted the importance of the financial navigation in the trial – and the fact that this requires a different skill set from the aged care navigators.

500 Care Finders in the Budget

The Government has backed the report, releasing a statement calling face-to-face aged care navigation services as the “centrepiece” of its new services to help older Australians.

The Morrison Government already committed in the Budget to provide face-to-face aged care support in 325 Services Australia centres as well aged care specialists in 70 additional service centres and $93.7 million to introduce a network of up to 500 local “Community Care Finders”.

Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Senator Richard Colbeck said this face-to-face support will ensure those seeking information will be able to tap into the knowledge of local experts.

“The Royal Commission found that aged care required a much greater face-to-face presence to support access and utilisation, and now the Aged Care System Navigator trials evaluation supports that finding, it’s a clear indicator of the way forward,” he said.

Watch this space then.