Supporting Our Seniors

ACAA

Supporting our seniors is no small endeavour. Today’s aged care industry consists of 1,250 residential care providers and 3,500 home and community care providers across 2,736 residential care sites and approximately 55,000 dwellings. Providers include non-profit churches, private for-profits, and a range of small, community service providers. Although aged care providers are a large and diverse group, Rod Young, CEO of the Aged Care Association Australia (ACAA), explains that they all share a common purpose: “Providing care and services to some of the frailest and most dependant people in the community.” With such a weighty responsibility, aged care providers benefit from ongoing support and representation. This is where ACAA steps in. “We see ourselves as being a substantial representative voice on behalf of the elderly and care service providers,” Mr Young reports. The association takes an apolitical approach and strives to fairly and equitably represent members across the continuum of care.

ACAA is a federated body to whom the states belong. Direct relationships with individual members are then provided through the state offices. Services vary, depending on the size and capability of each state. All states offer training, education opportunities, government lobbying, policy development, and industry wide representation. The larger states also provide industrial relations support, work place relations support, consultancy services, and back office services.

ACAA is committed to promoting legislation in favour of the aged care industry and the government’s recent response to the Productivity Commission Report, Caring for older Australians, was of critical importance to the association and its members. “We have been working for 12 years toward getting government to adopt some of the measures that were announced,” Mr Young explains. “They didn’t do all the things that we had been seeking… but they did address a number of issues that we had been asking them to adopt as part of an industry reform package for which we were quite pleased.”

Mr Young says that one “very good initiative” outlined in the response is the new plan to view residential care as a single system. “At the moment, there are quite different financial circumstances if you enter a hostel-low care or if you enter a nursing home-high care,” he explains. In the future, however, “the funding scheme will be the same.” Another welcome initiative is a new gateway service that will guide consumers through the complicated aged care system and help them better understand what services may be available in their local community. Mr Young says that the decision is crucial because “anybody who has tried to find services, or tried to gain access into care, or is in the aged care system, will know that it is very diverse, very complex, and not always that easy to navigate.”

ACAA is not entirely pleased with the government’s response, however. “We would still like to have seen them adopt all that we wanted,” Mr Young says, “But I guess that was asking too much in a fiscally constrained year.” The association is disappointed that the government did not adopt the Productivity Commission Report recommendation to convert the aged care system from a restrained supply situation to one of entitlement. The association had also hoped to see an equity release scheme enacted, wherein homeowners could use some of the equity in their homes to purchase accommodation, and depending upon their means, make contributions toward the cost of care.

The association’s next step will be to consolidate the government’s announcements regarding the Productivity Commission Report and to clarify some of the issues addressed. “Obviously we will need to have a major contribution to the further discussion [of the report] and the details around how some of the announcements will be enacted,” Mr Young says. Most of the recommendations the government has adopted won’t come into play until July 2014. “Quite sensibly, that will allow time to carry out the legislative reforms that will be necessary and to have further discussion on some of the details.”

ACAA also offers assistance in the area of Media and public relations. At the national level, the association represents members “in the broad context,” while state offices are able to provide public relations support to specific members. Mr Young reports that the association speaks at conferences, writes articles for a variety of magazines, and releases media statements “to comment upon aged care related issues and give a perspective on behalf of our members.”

The association holds a National Congress each year to promote discourse and provide information on important aged care issues. This year’s Congress will be held in Perth from the 28th to 30th of October, and will focus on the concerns the industry has regarding its limited workforce. Attendees can look forward to an exposé on service models, developments in clinical care, financing models, accommodation types, accommodation structuring, and financial structuring.

ACAA also conducts industry relevant research. One of the association’s most recently released reports is The Cost of Residential Aged Care. The report commissioned accounting firm Grant Thornton to perform an in-depth analysis to determine the cost of care in modern facilities. The findings clearly indicate a consumer desire for well-appointed, high quality buildings with reasonable sized, single bedrooms and en suite bathrooms. All things considered, facilities need to allow around 52 square meters per resident. “That’s going to cost,” Mr Young says. Indeed, the report calculates the cost of care per resident to be $226,000. These results feed into the industry’s response to the Productivity Commission Report and reiterate the need for adequate capacity and funding.

ACAA is committed to steering the aged care industry in the right direction long term. One major goal is that the industry’s profile be enhanced overall in the future. Mr Young believes that this will happen automatically to a certain degree, “because we’re an aging society.” But, the association wants to be sure that “the community’s attitude toward aged care is a more positive one than what it has traditionally been.” Another issue on the association’s agenda is the need for a national single body representing the industry. “So we’d have a single industry association across the continuum of senior housing and accommodation,” Mr Young explains, “and that would have the association more acutely linked structurally to what is actually happening in the industry.”

The aged care industry faces numerous challenges, and the association is proactive in working to overcome them. One concern is members’ ability to gain adequate funding and maintain their financial viability. The industry “must be able to operate on a long term commercial basis,” Mr Young points out. “In a general context we can’t provide care and services unless we are operating in an environment where the business – whether church, charity or for profit – is able to make a surplus that is going to sustain the business into the future. So there is an ongoing tension between ensuring sufficient operating income to provide quality services while also looking after long term capital needs.” Mr Young says that, to make this possible, “there is more business discipline to be applied” across the range of aged care providers. “You do need to run the organisation as a disciplined business that is providing quality services. And we can’t actually separate those two things because one is directly connected to the other.”

When asked what the aged care industry’s greatest challenge is, Mr Young answers, “Workforce. Workforce. And workforce.” Currently, about 300,000 people are employed in aged care. But, as society ages over the next 30 years, that number will quickly need to double to 600,000. By 2050, the industry will demand close to three quarters of a million workers. Mr Young admits that this “seems a long way away,” but insists that the date is closer than we may realise. “When you’re planning workforce, and when you’re planning training schemes, two or three decades can disappear very quickly.” The association, therefore, is focusing closely on how best to care for “an aging population with a shrinking workforce in a global economy.” The group believes that creating a workplace environment that is exciting and interesting is crucial to attracting new talent into the industry.

“I think it is a very positive story,” Mr Young says of the aged care industry overall. But, “We can’t pretend that the job is done.” The industry must grow significantly to meet the needs of a rapidly aging population, and come up with the workforce and funding that growth requires. But, along with this challenge comes enormous opportunity. “You may not have thought about aged care previously,” he says, “but please do so now, because it will more than double in size within thirty years. This isn’t the mining industry,” he laughs, “but it’s going to have a similar growth path.”

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October 20, 2018, 11:24 AM AEDT

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