The aged care sector in Australia will be getting the same treatment as the financial services industry after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a royal commission into the industry yesterday.
The enquiry is a welcomed development by one SME in the space, who tells SmartCompany aged care in Australia has become a “dog eat dog” world where government funds are regularly misappropriated.
Morrison’s announcement pre-empts a special two-part Four Corners expose into Australia’s aged care operators, with the first episode due to air tonight. Four Corners has recently lifted the lid on a number of problem areas in Australian business, including the Australian Taxation Office’s alleged mistreatment and “bullying” of small businesses.
Though the full details of the commission’s line of inquiry are not clear, Morrison said yesterday the commission will look at the quality of care provided to elderly Australians in residential, home and community aged care, along with home services such as food delivery.
Additionally, the commission will delve into the overall challenges associated with caring for older Australians, and the future challenges and opportunities for the sector.
However, Morrison was not willing to say if there was a crisis in the aged care sector or not.
“That is the point of holding a royal commission. The evidence shows that the problems are not restricted to any one part of the aged-care sector, whether it is for-profit or not-for-profit, large or small facilities, regional or major metropolitan,” he said.
“The royal commission will look at the sector as a whole, without bias or prejudice. It will make findings on the evidence. As a government, and a parliament, it will be our job to act on these findings together.”
According to the ABC, there have been 10 inquiries into the aged care sector since 2009, many stemming from shocking scandals in the industry, such as the one that surrounded the Oakden aged care facility, which was shut down after staff were found to be restraining, assaulting and overmedicating residents.
Staff in aged care “leftovers”
Another underlying issue in the aged care space is one of regular understaffing, with many industry bodies and experts calling for the introduction of ratios for staff to be implemented as law.
Speaking to SmartCompany, co-founder and chief executive of Blisscare Health Igor Statkevitch says getting more highly trained people into the industry is absolutely paramount. Blisscare Health provides healthcare and wellness services and solutions to the wider aged care industry all across Australia, and has been running for almost eight years.
Statkevitch says much of the mismanagement and mistreatment of the elderly in aged care facilities comes down to the people running the organisations, saying the majority of staff are poorly trained and “leftovers” from other industries.
“It all comes down to the people. I came out of the corporate environment and stepped into aged care and it felt like I went 20 years back in time. They simply did not understand things like basic finance or basic economic concepts,” he says.
“It’s all being managed by people with a backwards approach, and industry only attracts second-hand types of people.
“All the best nurses go to the hospitals, and all the best managers go to the banks, so aged care receives the leftovers. And when you get leftovers, you get these sorts of outcomes.”
Associate professor and director of the National Ageing Research Institute Briony Dow also thinks the quality of service in aged care facilities should be looked at by the royal commission, but thinks it will be tough to change due to working in aged care being viewed “negatively”.
“I don’t think it’s about staff not doing their jobs properly, I think it’s because they lack things like career progression, and they’re often not as respected in society,” she says.
“Too many cowboys”
Statkevitch welcomes the royal commission into the sector, saying there’s “too many cowboys” in the space and it’s a “dog eat dog” world. He’s hoping for better quality frameworks for aged care operators and better infrastructure, along with a crackdown on elderly abuse and more focus on a preventative healthcare model.
Blisscare Health has suffered in recent years, says Statkevitch, losing an estimated third of its business due to aged care facilities he alleges want quality care “for peanuts”.
“I provide services to aged care facilities all around Australia, and I’m faced with operators who are asking for quality service for peanuts. They want quality, but won’t pay for it, even though the government gives them money,” he says.
“There’s complete misappropriation of funds in aged care; I regularly see government money being used for something completely different to its initial purpose.”
Both Statkevitch and Dow agree aged care facilities both big and small are guilty of similar trespasses, with mistreatment rife across all levels of business.
Dow says she’s in two minds about the royal commission, as many of the issues in the space are already well-known due to the previous numerous inquiries. However, on balance she says it’s overall a good move, as long as the government acts on the commission’s recommendations.
“I think we know a fair bit about the problems, and one answer would be to just fix them, but I think the royal commission will give us a chance to examine the whole sector, rather than just getting anecdotal or piecemeal bits of evidence,” she says.