PEOPLE AND PROFILES: Anna Howard CEO of Murray Mallee Aged Care talks to Community Care Review about the additional costs facing rural home care providers and the potential of technology to overcome the tyranny of distance.

Anna Howard
Anna Howard

Rural aged care provider Murray Mallee Aged Care is gearing up for growth says its chief executive officer Anna Howard.

Like many providers responding to a changing community care environment, the organisation is looking to diversify its business into other service areas.

The South Australian provider recently registered with the National Disability Insurance Scheme in preparation for the full rollout of the scheme to all age groups by July 2018 and is exploring new opportunities in affordable housing and restorative care.

Howard says community aged care has learned a lot from disability services and she sees an increasing alignment at a policy and service philosophy level between the two sectors.

While the organisation has delivered disability services on a small scale, the organisation is looking to expand as the NDIS rolls out in SA.

With the introduction of changes in home care from February 2017, the organisation is also anticipating it will be able to deliver additional home care packages to rural clients in the region and is investing further resources into marketing and promotion. The organisation currently holds 136 home care packages, including approximately 10 per cent Aboriginal-specific packages.

Established in 1994, Murray Mallee Aged Care is a rural community service provider operating across approximately 42,000 square kilometres in the Murray Mallee and the Riverland regions in the central eastern part of SA.

In addition to in-home care, the organisation also delivers a range of social and educational programs to older people in the community. All up the provider reaches approximately 300 clients.

Overcoming distance

A highly popular initiative set up by the organisation has been a program that connects seniors to the internet through digital technology training, says Howard.

“In 2009 to 2012 we were part of a research project with the University of Adelaide and the late Professor Graeme Hugo where we were funded to look at the impact digital technology could have on reducing the tyranny of distance. Out of that project we continue to run iPad classes for seniors,” she says.

The six-week course run by adult educators helps older people learn to use applications such as Skype, Facebook and email to communicate with family and friends living interstate or overseas.

“In addition to regular classes, we also have drop-in groups that are run by graduates of the course and people can drop in on a weekly basis and be supported to build their knowledge and skills,” she says.

“The people that we have had through the classes have benefited enormously from the program and we have built our knowledge too as an organisation.”

Demonstrating the potential of technology to enhance the lives of seniors, Howard says one program participant used the skills and confidence gained through the technology classes to take up a role on the Murray Mallee Aged Care board.

“She started off at a very basic level and progressed to remaining a regular member of the drop-in group. She is now a valuable member of our board. For her, the program gave her the confidence to engage in a more public life.”

Experience of CDC

Having worked in management roles in home care since the 1990s, in local government and CALD-specific community services, Howard has witnessed significant change in the sector.

She says reform to home care packages and the introduction of consumer directed care has led to a more equitable and transparent system for consumers.

It has also encouraged more personalised services, which facilitates the delivery of flexible, culturally appropriate care, she says.

While CDC and individualised funding have delivered benefits to consumers, a particular challenge facing rural, regional and remote clients and providers is the impact of travel costs on individual budgets, says Howard.

“It’s difficult seeing travel and those on-costs absorbing large amounts of people’s budgets. It is an issue we are watching very closely.”

While on average there is not a significant impact on consumers, she says there are cases where individuals “can be enormously disadvantaged” by the cost of travel.

Howard says she welcomes the government’s commissioned research into the implementation of CDC being conducted by Taylor Nelson Sofres, which provides a valuable opportunity to evaluate the impact on home care providers and consumers in rural areas and consider the importance of retaining an element of block funding.

She says updated data gathered from home care clients and providers since July 2015 will provide the government with a clearer picture of what is happening under CDC and where the challenges are.

For Howard, another area of significant change and potential in the community care sector is the increased use of technology, such as client management and mobile worker solutions.

“Technology has really enabled the home care sector to be what it is today,” she says.

This article appears in the current edition of Community Care Review magazine.

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