Better understanding needed on why the aged care sector matters



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Addressing issues affecting the aged care sector in Australia needs to start with a rethink around why the industry matters, according to the head of a taskforce charged with developing a strategy for growing and sustaining the aged care workforce.

Speaking at a CEDA Victoria event on aged care workforce strategy, Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce Chair, Professor John Pollaers, reflected on the taskforce’s work to date including its extensive consultations with the aged care industry and its consumers, involving 400 providers and community members.

“We started with consumers to understand the issues that are driving this sector and we found that guilt is a major driver in the sector,” Professor Pollaers said.

“Guilt over outsourcing care of somebody you love. Guilt over not feeling like you’re up to it. Guilt over not really wanting to do it but not being free to say you don’t want to do it and anger when it goes wrong. And interestingly the anger is the anger about what it says about me and then the anger about what it’s done to the person I care for.”

Professor Pollaers said a starting point for tackling the sector’s issues is to establish why the industry matters. That means looking at the industry mindset and organisational design to inform job design, remuneration, attraction and retention strategies.

“We want to make decisions along the way as an industry to actually address the issues. That’s the attitude we’ve taken in this work,” he said.

One thing that needs to be understood is that the aged care workforce deals with very human emotions and, therefore, the workforce has a very difficult job.

“Most people don’t understand the extent to which this workforce builds long term relationships with people and then they die,” Professor Pollaers said.

He said the workforce needs to be well equipped and supported in their work. Yet currently jobs are not well defined, position descriptions relatively poor and 50–70 per cent of the workforce is underrated and undervalued.

Based on the taskforce’s work Professor Pollaers identified three major areas for industry reform:

  • a shifting of community attitudes towards ageing and dying; 
  • reframing the idea of care; and
  • relieving the perceived burden of care.

He said this will require reforming access to the industry to ensure consumers get the right help at the right time and ensuring that care adds to the value of someone’s life.

The taskforce, Professor Pollaers said, had made 15 strategic recommendations including better defining the industry and its workforce and establishing a voluntary industry Code of Practice and addressing a funding shortfall.

Professor Pollaers said workforce planning had been identified as an industry issue and acknowledged that aged care workers are in typically low-paid jobs.

“We do have an underpaid sector if you’re choosing the midpoint… That says we have a systemic issue,” he said.

And, he said, better leadership in the sector could solve some of its issues, noting a disconnect between views on the current state of aged care held by people in leadership positions and those at the coal face.

“People who are in positions of authority and control feel pretty good and people who are not don’t,” he said.

“I’ve never seen that before. That’s quite remarkable and points to a fundamental need for more people leadership and high-performance leadership skills across the industry very broadly.”

Following his keynote address Professor Pollaers was joined in a panel discussion on the industry by Box Hill Institute Chief Executive Officer, Norman Gray AM and Benetas General Manager, Residential Services, Quality and Compliance, Paula Trood.

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