Aged care providers must operate differently and reshape community perceptions, peak body Leading Age Services Australia has said, as it kicks off ten days of industry-wide discussions.
In his opening remarks to the LASA Congress this morning, chief executive officer Sean Rooney highlighted the challenges facing the industry amid the royal commission, funding overhauls and negative community perceptions.
He called for a once-in-a-generation change in the industry to transform the sector to a person-centred approach through collaboration and commitment between healthcare, mental health and other social services.
“The narrative around aged care and the perceptions around aged care will only change when we change,” he said.
“The royal commission is holding up a mirror to our nation and our sector about the value we place on our elders and how we care for and support them when they need it.
“We need to acknowledge we need something better than what it currently is. We need something better.”
Mr Rooney also highlighted the poor opinion of the sector across the community, highlighting the “ugly blame game” that played out in the media.
“This was inappropriate, unhelpful and really so hurtful for many aged care providers,” he said.
He told the conference it was time to start explaining their story differently and embracing a new mindset of care.
In order to create a new world-class aged care system changes were required, he said.
“We have to emphasise that we are about care and the importance of our sector to communities and the nation,” he said.
“This is not about aged care policy and the aged care system, it’s about basic human needs.
“It’s about relationships, it about compassion and our focus has to be on providing the best possible care.
“So we don’t talk about compliance, we talk about excellence. We don’t talk about facilities, we talk about homes. We don’t talk about consumer, we talk about our valued elders. And how the work we do makes a meaningful, positive difference to their lives day in and day out.”
The ten-day event, taking place virtually, brings dozens of experts together to discuss the challenges and opportunities ahead.
Communication with families and enterprise risk were also discussed today.
Over the coming week, issues around workforce planning, ageing in place and marketing and communications will be explored. The following week will feature speakers and panels on governance, finance, innovation and research, international perspectives and the future of ageing.
An international panel also discussed their experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the different challenges the sector has faced.
Black Swan Care Group chief executive Tom Lyons, from the United Kingdom, said the experience had a profound impact on the industry.
Of the 66,000 deaths of residents in care homes from March to June, 20,000 involved COVID-19.
The industry sector is predominantly private (85 per cent) and residents pay wholly for their care, he said.
In addition to the health impact, there has also been economic fallout. Occupancy has dropped from 90 per cent to 95 per cent as an average, but it is now about 80 per cent.
“There’s certainly a lot of things we would do differently now, knowing what we know now,” he said.
American firm Cynosure Health chief executive Bruce Spurlock said there were 57,000 deaths in care in the US but there was dramatic variation across the country.
“One of the things about the data is that when patients are transferred to a hospital they’re counted as a hospital case,” he said.
“The data may underestimate the real impact in a nursing facility.
“As you can imagine it is a new world. The staff are really overwhelmed, trying to find enough staff is a difficulty, and … our occupancy rates are down 20 per cent with no hope that they’re going to go up.
“For many of these organisations, they’re going to go under.”
He said the highest-risk centres had people of lower socioeconomic status and low numbers of nursing staff.
The LASA Congress continues over the next two weeks. Tickets can be purchased here – https://lasacongress.asn.au/