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Crafting a new framework for quality and safety in aged care

Photo: Crafting a new framework for quality and safety in aged care
With the Australian population ageing, the market for aged care is increasing. Aged care has become a hot discussion topic as of late. In fact, a national conversation about aged care is currently taking place as the Royal Commission Into Aged Care Quality and Safety conducts hearings to determine their recommendations for a new framework of guidelines and policies for quality and safety in aged care in Australia.

How, exactly, do we want to define “quality” in aged care? That is one of the many questions at hand.
Everyone has different ideas about what constitutes high-quality aged care -- but there are a few things most Australians can agree on. Ideally, excellent care would allow each person to have immediate assistance for needs like water, toileting and injuries. Necessary medications would be dispensed promptly. Personal hygiene assistance would be administered in a timely, efficient and dignified manner.

Unfortunately, our aspirations about quality of care do not always match up with the realities of what our beloved elders are experiencing. In for-profit aged care facilities, timely and sensitive care is not always a possibility. Staff is often overworked and lacks sufficient time to spend on ensuring every last one of each resident’s wishes are fulfilled.

Many Australians agree that our elders would ideally be placed in small, home-like facilities where staff is able to provide individualized attention to each resident. Unfortunately, experts report that aged care facilities in Australia are actually getting larger, more institutionalized and less home-like.

If we care at all about the quality of life our elders are experiencing, we need to work on reversing these trends.

Tahlia Stagg is an aged care worker from Coffs Harbour, a city on the mid north coast of NSW. She is all too familiar with the direction things are currently taking in aged care facilities. Tahlia has once again revived the national discussion about aged care quality issues, thanks to her recent Facebook post about a typical aged care worker’s hectic, chaotic shift at work. Soon after she wrote the post, it went viral on the internet.

Tahlia’s post describes a grueling day where she and 3 of her fellow aged care nurses struggle to get all the residents in their care groomed, toileted, fed, medicated and taken care of in the meagre amount of time allotted to them for each task. Her day ends in unpaid overtime as she finishes paperwork she wasn’t able to complete while she was rushing to attend to her higher priority duties of patient care. Her Facebook post has received a sympathetic and supportive response from significant numbers of Australians.

Tahlia’s post has given a face and additional awareness to a known problem that is not just national, but global in scope. A large part of the problem is that Australia does not have enough aged care workers to meet the needs of our elderly population. Because pay rates are relatively low, and the work can be emotionally challenging, this sector has struggled to engage aged care workers and keep them on the payroll.

We need to make it a high national priority to recruit and train new students to this sector. It is crucial for us to ensure as many students as possible are successful in completing our most rigorous and compelling aged care courses.

Public discussion is taking place about whether or not to raise pay rates for our nation’s aged care workers. The Honourable Bill Shorten, who is a member of Victoria’s House of Representatives, has publicly commented that he believes aged care workers are deserving of higher pay. However, he is awaiting the report that is currently being prepared by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety before he takes any action on evaluating new policies to implement for that sector.

The commission must produce their final report by the official deadline of April 30, 2020. They are currently seeking submissions from the public and relevant institutions. They are especially interested in learning about instances of misuse, abuse and substandard care of elderly Australians.

The commission will be accepting public submissions through the end of September 2019 -- so be sure to submit your comments for consideration if you have relevant insights to share with them. In particular, if you work in the aged care sector, or you plan to do so, this is your chance to make the commission aware of your views about the changes you believe they should recommend.

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