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Aged care must act now to shape future

In this guest post, Mark Harrison, partner at accounting and business advisory firm Pitcher Partners, discusses how the aged care industry needs to be on the front foot in helping shape the future it wants.

The aged care spending measures outlined in the Budget will not prove the panacea that many operators and stakeholders felt was needed after this incredibly demanding year.

Aged care is making headlines every week as it manages the COVID-19 crisis while negotiating the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, and expectations in the sector were high.

Many providers would have hoped to have seen aged care take a centrepiece role, but it remains in something of a holding patten, pending the final report from the Royal Commission being handed down next year.

The delay is understandable, if disappointing for some.

There were just four months between the interim report and the arrival of COVID-19, and since then, the sector and various government departments have been focused on the crisis sweeping residential aged care.

To propose a new, improved model of care — a holy grail for all — without having received the Royal Commission’s final report would have been very brave indeed.

Yet despite some disappointment over a lack of new vision for aged care, there are good reasons to appreciate another year before system-wide change.

Rather than viewing the Budget through the lens of health and ageing funding, it is worth looking at it through the lens of jobs.

Three important initiatives here include:

  • $81 million for surge workforce and increased training for aged care workers
  • $8.4 million for supplementary payments to help cover quarantine costs and interstate staff
  • $205.1 million extension of the Aged Care Workforce Retention Bonus Payment

Each of these helps shore up the existing workforce as they continue to manage the state of emergency.

It’s in the future workforce that real opportunities arise.

All operators should examine accessing the JobMaker Credit Scheme to supplement the cost of new employment. While this will not help those seeking highly skilled staff, this ongoing support will enable the sector to start engaging a younger workforce who can grow into the roles.

The 100,000 places for apprenticeships are also worth exploring, particularly for areas such as catering and maintenance.

Operators should also look at the traineeship incentives as an opportunity to increase the skill level of their work force.

The industry should also be leading the conversation about what it wants from a future model — in advance of the final report of the Royal Commission and when responding to its findings.

Aged care in Australia needs to articulate its aspirations, such as becoming an employer of choice, upskilling participants, adopting new technologies and in the end becoming a world leader in care standards.

It will be this vision that should be taken to government to guide the 2021 Budget and a new aged care model that can support Australia into the future.

The next six months will be intensely challenging for the aged care sector, but a holding-pattern Budget has given it a small window of time to contribute to the designs for an improved system and prepare for the change to come.

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