Aged Care: how will smaller providers survive and thrive post COVID-19?

Smaller aged-care providers came into the COVID-19 era at a time when their sector was, and continues to be, under intense examination. In October 2019, the Aged Care Royal Commission released its interim report titled Neglect and the Commission’s final report is due on 26 February 2021.

The margins in running an aged care service are low. The costs have increased in light of COVID-19 infection control and are set to increase with the additional compliance measures expected from the Commission’s final report.

In addition, in the COVID environment many families are deciding not to move their loved ones into residential aged care, due to media reports on the prevalence of the disease in these settings and also visiting restrictions. Over the last six months, we have relocated six clients back home with care and support services put in place.

One concludes that in the current environment, in-home care providers are doing much better than their residential aged care provider counterparts.

This plays out in our survey of preferred home-care providers. They are all very positive about their current business performance and hold a positive outlook. In the main these are family business with on average 150+ employees.

These home care businesses place a strong emphasis on providing quality person centred care where their clients are not just “numbers” in a system. They know each client intimately. In our experience, care businesses holding such values and client commitment are the ones that will survive in the longer term.

They will, however, need to review their businesses in line with the significant changes expected from the Aged Care Royal Commission. Investment will need to be made in the area of operations, finance, workforce and HR challenges, social isolation, risk and audit.

To achieve a margin, many may need to pivot and diversify, others may

need to merge, sell or close down.

More immediately, there are five key areas of concern for all aged care providers, be it home care or residential care. They are:

  1. The general lack of committed, loyal, skilled employees having the empathy and compassion to pursue a career in the sector.
  2. The costs of recruiting permanent care staff having English as a first language. As a rule, care businesses do experience high employee turnover and the ongoing costs of recruitment is significant.
  3. The costs of ongoing professional training for all staff.
  4. The lack of government funding for the sector. For example, there are long queues for the government subsided Home Care Packages and waitlists for Commonwealth Home Support Services.
  5. The speed of innovation in the sector and the need to keep up with investment in technology systems to help reduce the compliance burdens.

Of the challenges mentioned, those around recruiting more people, and the right people, is one that needs to be immediately addressed to help care businesses survive and thrive.

Currently, providers large and small look to employ overseas students and carers. COVID-19 has made this recruitment more difficult. Some providers pay above-awards wages in order to attract and retain better quality employees.

Prior to COVID-19, we were called on to supplement the care of clients living in residential facilities. This involved organising additional “fee for service” private carers to visit the client for a few hours each day. It makes such a difference to the individual.

In summary, to survive and thrive, the care provider sector is telling us they need more support in attracting people into their sector.

Danielle Robertson, Founder, DR Care Solutions

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