Aged care needs image overhaul to attract workers, says CEO

The perception of aged care needs a redesign, Bethanie CEO Chris How tells Community Care Review.

The perception of aged care needs a redesign, the chief executive officer of West Australian aged care and retirement living provider Bethanie, has told Community Care Review.

Speaking to CCR ahead of his appearance at the Aged Care Quality, Safety and Risk Forum in Sydney next week, Bethanie CEO Chris How said the sector needed to overhaul its image to be able to attract an eager workforce.

Chris How

“We need to get rid of the notion of aged care being about two old people sitting on a bench. That’s the imagery you see a lot in aged care,” Mr How told CCR.

There’s much more to the sector than that, said Mr How. “There’s a lot more provider support given to our elders. It’s a lot more rewarding [for workers] in relation to providing residents with community connection, purpose – along with great care.”

The government can play a role in improving the perception of the sector, too, by showing more support and modifying its rhetoric, added Mr How.

“It’s very unhelpful when government comes out, talks about rorting of the system and those sorts of things when 99 per cent of providers are actually doing the right thing and providing great care. We need to change that public sentiment of the industry, which will help attract more people to it.”

The first day of the two-day forum includes an aged care reform stream and a quality, safety and risk stream. Other speakers at the event include Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner Janet Anderson, BlueCross Aged Care CEO Ingrid Harvey and Dr Nick Hartland from the Department of Health and Aged Care.

Mr How’s presentation on reform covers three topics: workforce, regulation, and the new funding model.

“Those are the three significant elements that are impacting the industry at the present time,” Mr How tells CCR.

Perhaps the most significant issue facing the sector is a haemorrhaging workforce. With Bethanie employing around 1,800 staff, Mr How is aware of the staff pressures the sector is dealing with.

“We’ve got about 65,000 workers leaving the sector every year and a shortfall of about 35,000 every year – which equates to close to 100,000 people that we need across the nation,” said Mr How.

While Mr How accepts “there is no silver bullet” to fix the staff exodus, there are a range of actions providers can undertake to attract and retain staff to the aged care sector.

“There’s always work to be done in any industry around maintaining a good culture and making sure that processes and systems that support a work-life balance are in place, which we know the next generation is going to require and need and want.”

Ready for reform

Addressing the “massive wave of regulation coming through,” Mr How told CCR aged care organisations need to ensure they have “the right clinical governance in place and the right risk processes in place as well.”

The industry also needs to be ready for the new AN-ACC funding model, which lands on 1 October. “If the industry is not prepared in doing the right things there’s going to be potential, or significant, financial impact. We need to prepare ourselves for that.”  

Whilst the extent of the reform process can appear daunting for some, Mr How is optimistic providers can rise to the challenges ahead. “The industry is maturing rapidly, and I think that we are in a position where we can do those things.”

The Aged Care Quality, Safety and Risk Forum will be held 6-7 September at the Amora Hotel, Sydney.

Australian Ageing Agenda is a media partner of the conference

Main image: Common imagery associated with aged care, which Bethanie CEO Chris How says gives the wrong perception of the sector

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