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Aged care sector mulls over star rating system for staffing

Aged care providers are eyeing a US star rating system for staffing levels after a report suggested it could be replicated for the Australian sector.

In a royal commission report, the Centre for Health Service Development pitched Australia’s aged care staffing levels against a star rating system used in the US and showed they came up short – more than half of all Australian aged care residents are in homes that would have a one or two-star rating.

Speaking to the royal commission this week, report co-author professor Kathy Eagar said the star system sidesteps the argument industry leaders often raise that measuring ratios is a blunt instrument.

“This sort of system, which is more sophisticated, allows for homes to have a quite different mix of staff in each home, depending on the unique needs of their residents,” Eagar said.

Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) voiced its in principle support for a similar system to be set up here.

Chief executive Patricia Sparrow said: “A new direction like this could be exactly what we need to force a rethink and set up Australia for our ageing population and the decades to come.”

But, she added that the peak’s support hinged on reassurance that the ratings would not bring about a two-tiered system. “The model must be about guaranteeing a good standard across the board.”

COTA Australia chief executive Ian Yates said the peak body representing older Australians would be willing to discuss such a proposal but would only support a system that looks at skills mix as well as staff numbers.

“We certainly wouldn’t support any kind of rating system, whether it’s stars or stop lights or anything, that doesn’t include a much more sophisticated approach to the skills mix required as well as just the gross numbers,” Yates said.

“In fact, a rating system that purely related to numbers could potentially be dangerous because it doesn’t have the right mix.

“It can actually lead to people being exposed if there’s not a sophisticated judgement made about the appropriate staffing.”

Yates said an Australian version of the system would also have to include allied health staffing levels – something the US model fails to do.

He added: “It is patently clear that Australia’s aged care system overall needs more staff but we need to understand better why it is that some people can staff properly with the current financial arrangements but the majority don’t.”

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