Aged care Royal Commission – let’s make it count

Over the weekend the Federal government has announced a Royal Commission into aged care.

This has been partly triggered by the horrible footage which recently emerged from a residential care facility in Sydney’s North Shore. This has been reinforced by the ABC Four Corners report into residential care.

Even though these reports have focused on residential facilities, on the other side of the country, images like this tarnish the reputation of our entire industry.

Some aged care workers may find themselves feeling anger and frustration, because the actions of a few will inevitably shake people’s trust in the aged care sector.

Some workers in the aged care industry may feel the announcement of a Royal Commission is an unfair, cynical attempt by the new Prime Minister to distract attention from the internal turmoil within his own party.

Even if that is partly true, the aged care industry needs to embrace the coming Royal Commission. The truth is, we who work in aged care and disability care have a moral duty to look after people who are struggling to look after themselves and who sometimes don’t have a voice.

For me, one of the most profound experiences of working in aged care is the feeling of looking into my own future. If I’m lucky, I may live long enough to be the age of my clients, and may one day need aged care. So when I’m dealing with clients, I’m constantly thinking in the back of my mind about providing the sort of care I would like to receive.

The vast majority of people working in aged care work so hard to provide the best possible service for their customers. The vast majority of aged care staff understand the important responsibility of caring for vulnerable people. For these aged care workers, the events in the recent videos are very upsetting.

Good people who work in aged care are constantly struggling to do the best they can within the confines of the ‘iron triangle’ of aged care:

  • We work with a fee structure which defines how much we charge our clients – which is set by government
  • We work with an award which defines how much we pay our staff – which is set by government
  • We work with an accreditation system and a set of aged care standards which tell us how we must do what we do – which is set by government.

As a result, many aged care providers are constantly striving to do the best they can, within a very specific set of constraints which make innovation difficult or virtually impossible. How can we be surprised the industry is sometimes struggling to implement contemporary, evidence based best practices?

Having said that, we must not pass the buck. It is vital as an industry for us to come together and hold ourselves and our industry accountable. We must not try to defend the indefensible. We must denounce poor behaviours when we see they are clearly falling below the standards we expect.

  • Yes, many people who work in aged care are there for the right reasons and genuinely want to make a difference in the lives of the people we care for
  • Some people who work in aged care don’t get it, and should not be there
  • Sometimes the pressures of time and resources in the industry create perverse incentives, which make it easier for people to do the wrong thing and sometimes make it harder for good people to do the right thing.

As an industry, we must treat this current scrutiny and the coming Royal Commission as an opportunity for learning and growth. Let us all take a long hard look in the mirror and make an honest appraisal – are we happy with what we see? Let us show some real leadership and work with our customers and with government to co-create some genuine, meaningful solutions to make our industry better. Let us put out hands on our hearts and be able to say with pride, we treat our elders the way we would like to be treated when we are their age, one day.






About Jonathan Smith

Turning strategy into reality
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