Aged care providers have been warned against “throwing apologies out to the wind” when an adverse incident occurs as this could leave them legally liable.
Julie McStay from Hynes Legal told delegates at the ACSA Summit in Sydney on Tuesday that now is the time to start thinking about how they are going to adapt to new quality standards that come into force next July.
Ms McStay said a requirement for open disclosure was one of three key standards, along with feedback and choice, that could have legal implications for providers as they transition to the new standards.
“It is fair to say it will be a big change, it will be a lot of work for providers and I think it will be better to get your head around that now than certainly to wait till the eleventh hour,” she said.
Open disclosure will be new to some providers and will require some changes in governance and procedure, she said.
However, open disclosure didn’t mean that each time there was an adverse event in an aged care service or facility that a provider must immediately apologise to the client and family and accept responsibility.
Ms McStay advised providers against rushing to apologise without doing it in a cautious and considered way, saying it could leave them legally liable.
“I’m all for saying an apology at the appropriate time but what I want to emphasise is that you are going to make an apology it can sometimes be an admission of liability and you have to be careful about that.
“If you are going to go down that path of an apology only do that after you have done an incident investigation and have found that you actually did something wrong.
“If it’s in relation to a serious matter that’s going to have some consequences … take some advice before you start throwing apologies and admissions of liability out to the wind because you might find that you have inadvertently prejudiced your position.”
Staff will also need to understand what to say and who to report to around adverse events, and there should be protocols around who will make the apology, she said.
Ms McStay acknowledged that delaying an apology could often be a catalyst for people resolving to take a matter further and that there have been cases where an apology had been demanded by the complaints commissioner.
But she said “there is more than one way to skin a cat” and it was possible to make an expression of sympathy and empathy without it becoming an admission of liability.
But crisis communications expert Gail D’Arcy, who has advised airlines and cruise operators as well as aged care organisations on media management, says apologies can be important from a damage control perspective.
“If your organisation has been found to be doing something terrible, something really terrible has happened, my approach would be for you to acknowledge the wrong doing internally and externally and talk about the steps you’re going to take to ensure it never happens again,” she said.
“There are ways of saying things like ‘we feel very sorry for what’s happened’ so you show you care about what’s happened, it’s not necessarily saying you take responsibility for what’s happened.”