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Opinion: Growth can have a heart

The market is becoming more commercial, but that doesn’t mean not-for-profits have to sacrifice compassion for success.
By Ray Glickman

The aged and home care marketplace is getting bigger and noisier by the day. As funding challenges push not-for-profits (NFPs) to work smarter, more commercial enterprises are setting up in prime positions to promote their wares.

Now, with new, strongly market-driven leadership in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the imperative to adapt is even greater. Turnbull says the best economies are open, highly competitive markets and he shows little tolerance for stagnation.

Earlier this year he told the Brisbane Club: “Times of increasing competition and rapid change are as much times of immense opportunity for the quick-witted as they are times of immense risk for the slow and the complacent.”

This is where NFPs such as ours find ourselves. Yet far from lamenting the good old days when aged care was a less attractive, and therefore less competitive, marketplace, I believe there are opportunities for us not only to adapt, but to differentiate our services in ways we may not have considered before.

The fact is that the aged-care sector has been moving towards a more commercial operating environment for some time. This isn’t just down to the increase in competition, but also to demographic changes as Australians age. The Baby Boomer generation in particular has brought with it an entirely new set of expectations and demands compared with its parents and grandparents.

It’s hard to argue against placing consumers at the centre of their own service universe. Yet, much can go wrong with this. Will consumers outside the metropolitan centres have any real choice? Will the government put a realistic level of funds into the purchasers’ hands? Will the new marketplace run rampant, escalating the prices charged to meet basic needs?

While competition can mean more choice and lower prices, it often leads ultimately to a streamlining of products and services into those that prove to be the most profitable, with the rest becoming categorised as ‘niche’ and therefore costly.

This is where an NFP with a compassionate philosophy of care, which puts respect for individual needs at the centre of its work, offers an essential point of difference – a commitment to people and values rather than investment and profit.

So how can an NFP adapt to a commercial environment without losing sight of its mission?

At Amana Living, we have been making major changes to ensure we remain one of the leading aged-care providers in Western Australia.

Customer service must be a top priority for aged-care providers now. Our customer service centre has been re-engineered to become a one-stop shop for people wanting advice and support from a single point of contact. This is backed up by a new customer-focused website that makes it easier for people to find the information they want.

Adaptive strategic planning is also vital to success, and ours has been undergoing a major review to refocus the organisation on areas of both growth and need. This has led to work on transforming and evolving our home-care service, clinical capability, and vision for dementia care and restorative and residential care.

The rapid growth of demand for home-care services has meant a complete restructure. Taking part in the pilot program for consumer-directed care gave us insight into the most effective systems, processes and human resourcing to optimise client choice and control. Our support workers in the field now have better team support, training and real-time access to client and clinical information.

We have also been able to improve efficiency in rostering and in responses to changing needs in both home and residential care. The residential care vision will lead us into the future with confidence as we capitalise on our growing clinical capability. This includes entry into transition care, development of our dementia services centres, and a refreshed focus on lifestyle/wellbeing. We’ve created a new healthcare division to encompass these three areas, enabling us to better respond to growth and need.

Our movement into the gap between health and aged care has indeed proved to be prescient, given the return of aged care to the health portfolio with the appointment of Sussan Ley as aged care minister with Ken Wyatt as assistant minister. Our sector has welcomed this as a chance to better integrate the two.

Aged care has a huge role to play in delivering better health outcomes for older people and greater efficiencies for the government. The increasing acuity of residents’ needs in care centres means that providers such as Amana Living are operating with a high level of clinical capability. We are, therefore, perfectly placed to support the health system by keeping older people out of hospital.

The key message to the new ministry has to be – fund aged care according to the real cost of care. Spending more on keeping older people out of hospital will result in much-reduced spending on keeping them in it. Together we can make aged care more sustainable as we continue to move to a consumer-driven market.

Ray Glickman is chief executive of Amana Living, chairman of Aged & Community Services WA, and director at Aged & Community Services Australia.


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