Peace of Mind Promise

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-By Anne Lindert-Wentzell

It was Cliff Young who proved an inspiration to all Australians in 1983. A potato farmer from Victoria, he surprised everyone with his win in the Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultra Marathon; a gruelling 875 kilometres. He ran when most slept – a true “tortoise and the hare” tale. Cliff was 61.

Stories like these are exceptional – not only because of Cliff’s achievement but namely because, just a mere 100 years ago, living to 60 itself was an accomplishment. A century ago, the average life span was only in the 40’s. Today, those living in developed nations are living in better health – and as much as a decade longer – than their parents. In fact, by 2050 in Australia, the number of people living to aged 65-84 is expected to double. The numbers are expected to quadruple for those 85 and over. What will this mean for aged care?

Cynthia Payne, SummitCare’s CEO, foresees a growing problem and a need for reform in the residential aged care industry – a reform that meets the challenges of an ageing population. As a residential aged care organisation with a 50 year history, SummitCare has been involved in a transitional process in the past five years; an internal redevelopment. “One of the big strategic issues for residential aged care providers in Australia is the demand requirements influencing what people are looking for in accommodation. Many older buildings tend to provide multi big rooms. Part of our vision is structuring the business toward single and twin… particularly in areas of lower social economical capacity to pay.”

The resident profile in the industry is shifting, due to a number of factors – namely the increase in community care programs. In recent years, the preference for older people has shifted toward home based care programs. These programs are jointly funded by the Commonwealth, states and territories. “In the past 10 years there has been an enormous growth of community based care. Older people are having more support to enable them to stay at home as long as they can,” says Cynthia. Subsequently, when residents are admitted, they’re much older and frailer, many with acute and chronic illnesses – circulatory disease and musculoskeletal/connective tissue disease, requiring complex 24 hour nursing care. And, according to a recent report, at least 52 per cent of permanent residents in aged care facilities have dementia. For SummitCare this means, “We are more like palliative and end stage dementia care. This is where residential aged care is moving towards in terms of its class profile.”

SummitCare currently has nine facilities throughout New South Wales. All maintain a strong relationship with their suppliers and contractors whose essential contribution allows these facilities to provide the quality care residents require. The choice in supplier and contractor varies – each project has uniquely different requirements. Says Cynthia, “We’ve worked with a range of suppliers and under different contract arrangements. Smaller jobs have been under design and construct. Bigger jobs involved different contractual arrangements. We haven’t necessarily worked with the one firm for everything,” noting that there is one constant. “The only thing we’ve had universally standard is the work with our interior designer.” Colour coordination and furniture are appropriate for resident needs as are colour schemes for those with dementia. “Our brand and the final experience of accommodation is very important. We wanted to make sure we had a signature experience coming through.”

Every resident considering admission to SummitCare requires an assessment and approval for care by an Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT). This team generally consists of local doctors, nurses and social workers, usually located in hospitals, aged care or community centres. The assessment determines the level of care requirements – low, high or dementia specific. The ACAT determines such factors as a person’s psychological and medical health – their ability to manage activities of daily living. Herein lies a concern, says Cynthia, noting that one of the reasons why a change is needed in the Australian aged care system is that, “Depending on which region an older person is in, the waiting lists for assessments can be variable. It’s not uncommon for someone to wait six weeks or longer to have an aged care assessment completed. This assessment is a vehicle not only to residential aged care but all the funded aged care services. There’s a genuine recognition that the system is suffering with the aged care demand for services.”

SummitCare comes under the National Age Care Act in which all aged care services, which are subsidised by the government, undergo a required accreditation system; it’s not an option. All SummitCare homes are assessed against a list of standards by the Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency, an independent body appointed by the Department of Health and Ageing. Included are standards relating to nursing and personal care, resident safety, management and policies. If they meet required standards, residential aged care facilities are accredited. “All of our services are fully accredited for three years… we’ve done well. Last year through that program, we received two national better practice awards… the agency recognises when Providers are exceeding those standards.”

SummitCare’s Quality Management System Framework, developed using principal components of the Australian Business Excellence Framework and the New South Wales Health Quality Framework, entails an integrated leadership and management system that promotes sustainability and exceptional performance. Says Cynthia, “We’re about to embark again on our review this year through the Australian business excellence awards program… today we still hold the status of being the only aged care provider in Australia to have achieved Silver. This is an externally analysed and verified mechanism of assessment. It’s a recognition that SummitCare is operating against the business excellence standards at the silver level, which is very high… we do this as part of our commitment, to have externally verified the amount of effort we put into making sure we’re an excellent business.”

As in any successful business, staff retention is paramount for future growth. SummitCare provides a framework of staff recognition through employee development and incentives. “It’s important to us that at the earliest involvement of staff with our organisation, we make sure that they have the right attitude as well as the skills,” says Cynthia. “Our staff retention rate is averaging at 97 per cent. We’re not experiencing staff turnover to the degree that some other organisations are.” This compelling retention rate has much to do with how SummitCare staff are encouraged to pursue their objectives outside of their personal learning strategy. “This year we’ve started a partnership relationship with the aged care channel which provides a learning strategy for an enormous cache of aged care specific training courses… we also invest heavily in a working relationship with training organisations… we have qualifications that are provided, such as certificate three, certificate four and diplomas. We have a number of managers that are completing primary business management. Our study assistance policy is very proactive in identifying talent within the business, so that we can help advance people with their personal and professional career goals… The training strategy is a key part of our retention.”

SummitCare uses mystery shoppers as an external means to understand the consumer’s point of view. Such things as how material is prepared, how tours are supported and how families are provided with information requirements can ease a loved one’s concern during the difficult transition period from home into residence. “We’ve tailored what we do to better accommodate those needs,” says Cynthia. “That has paid enormous dividends in the results of occupancy. We average above the state averages in occupancy… we can meet our competitors based on how we support people at that critical time.” SummitCare has also proactively overhauled its feedback management system, making it easier for residents and families to provide feedback. The retention strategy is “all about how well we respond to an issue that comes up,” adds Cynthia. “That links back to our Vision. If they don’t have peace of mind we could potentially lose residents.”

Dwindling registered nurse numbers could adversely impact the aged care industry. According to a recent report commissioned for state and federal governments, a critical nursing shortage is anticipated by 2025 – a shortage of 80,000 – 147,000 nurses. The number of nursing graduates will need to be increased by 85-158 per cent to meet the future demand. “They’re critical to the care aspect of residents,” affirms Cynthia.

Aged care reform will be an issue in the 2012 Federal Budget. “The recommendation for the review was the need to reform the entire system,” says Cynthia. It’s the first time that the industry, unions and consumers are collaborating and advising the government, unanimously, that reform is needed. “Everyone shares an outcome that the older person needs a system that works for them.”

Concluding, Cynthia reiterates that the SummitCare focus is always on the consumer. “Our brand has been evolving… Our vision statement speaks of the organisation – Working Together To Provide Peace Of Mind. That’s not a cliché. That’s what we do.”

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Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 16, 2018, 6:43 AM AEDT