Complaints Commissioner issues challenge to the industry

Aged Care Commissioner Rae Lamb chose Anzac Day to issue a warning to providers that complaints need to be dealt with more publicly.

In an interview with journalists from the Sydney Morning Herald, Ms Lamb urged providers to “say a lot more about the complaints they get and how they handled them”.

“It is time to be proactive and bring these things into the sunlight,” she was quoted in the article.

“At the moment, we are in the environment where people are being given a lot more control over their care, but to make good choices, people need more information.”

Ms Lamb told the journalists that providers should detail the number and types of complaints they received and how they were resolved, both on their websites and at actual facilities.

She also said she is receiving “more and more” home care complaints but did not provide any detail about the number of complaints or indicate how many were quickly resolved.

The last figures released by the Commissioner in January showed the most complaints related to residential care but of those relating to home care, the more frequent issues were fees and communication.

This apparently remains the case, with clients believing they did not need or had not used services they have been charged for.

“The financial stuff is wide-ranging. It is not just about the financial charges and additional fees,” Ms Lamb said.

Perceived failures in consultation and communication, food and personal care also featured prominently.

At the end of the article, the journalists said Fairfax Media is beginning an investigation of the aged care sector and wants consumers to share their stories.

Darren Mathewson, acting CEO of ACSA, told Inside Ageing that while changes to the standards and accreditation processes will improve transparency, issues should be discussed and resolved between the provider, the resident and their family.

“Residents’ needs are paramount, and Aged & Community Services Australia believes that if there are concerns about a resident’s care and services these should first be discussed and resolved between the provider and the resident and their family,” he said.

“ACSA is also supportive and involved in the development of consumer focussed reports and standards which will form part of the accreditation processes and will improve aged care transparency and accountability.”

“Our industry invests heavily in workforce development to ensure the staff in our organisations are professional, dedicated and passionate about their work and consistently meet high standards.”

“Aged care is a highly regulated industry and subject to stringent standards, enforced by the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency (AACQA). This includes both regular scheduled site visits and unscheduled “spot-checks” to ensure that providers are meeting high standards.”

“In terms of home care fees, consumers are only required to pay what is in the contract they have negotiated and agreed on with the provider. If they believe the fees are too high they can choose another service provider,” he said.

Most providers we spoke to today appear unfazed by the provocative comments, and welcome the Department’s efforts to support transparency and continuous quality improvement.

National Director of UnitingCare Australia Claerwen Little said the organisation supports a consumer-centred approach to aged care, including “appropriate transparency around quality and compliance to assist clients to choose services that best meets their needs.”

“The Department of Health is in the process of developing a single aged care quality framework for aged care services that receive Commonwealth funding. In our submission to that process, we commented on the importance of services improving the consumer’s capacity to be part of the continuous improvement process, to move the sector away from a ‘compliance’ approach,” she said.

Benetas CEO, Sandra Hill said the transition to a consumer-orientated market heightens the need for transparency about complaints and disputes to ensure consumers have the information they need to make the right choices.

“We support moves toward greater transparency, and would welcome an opportunity to work with the Commissioner to ensure the sector continues to communicate in an open and honest manner with older Australians and their families,” she said.


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