Home | COVID-19 | Government teams up with tech company to shore up aged care workforce

Government teams up with tech company to shore up aged care workforce

The federal government has teamed up with tech company Mable to bolster the residential aged care workforce in emergency situations.

Two aged care homes with large COVID-19 outbreaks have experienced workforce shortages due to the virus. First at a BaptistCare facility – the first to experience an outbreak in Australia – where staff refused to work and more recently at Anglicare’s Newmarch House, where 55 staff have been placed in isolation due to an outbreak which has seen 44 confirmed cases of COVID-19 – 29 residents and 15 staff.

As part of its emergency response strategy the government will tap into Mable’s network of 8,000 pre-vetted workers if a surge workforce is needed.

They also have emergency response teams on standby if there’s a significant outbreak in a residential aged care facility and remote locums available to support aged care providers in remote Australia if they are unable to source staff.

Mable was co-founded in 2014 by chief executive officer Peter Scutt and executive director Tony Charara. The platform differs from other home care providers in that Mable’s online platform connects aged care workers with home care recipients directly, offering more choice for the user.

A Mable user can search for their support person based off location, interests or gender, and even fee. And this was important for Scutt, who waded into the business of aged care after a frustrating experience finding a home-care solution that suited his own parents’ needs.

“We’re a solution that enables [people] to connect with a community of independent care and support workers, and we enable those connections to happen in local communities around Australia. So we’re really responding to the self-direction movement or the self-management movement that is happening in the NDIS world. For people with a disability, it is very important to them to be able to build a solution or build support that’s very relevant to their unique life,” says Scutt.

“And similarly, that’s happening in aged care, where everyone’s an individual, they’re living in their homes, communities all over Australia. They have specific needs and preferences, and the way they want to lead their life as they age, and they need services to respond to that. And some of those consumers are very motivated to take more control and to exercise choice with the level of who supports them, and when that support happens and how it happens.”

Scutt tells Aged Care Insite that his company model aims to foster long term relationships between carers and support workers, and he recalls his experience with his English father who didn’t like the idea of different strangers coming to his house.

“Dad was an Englishman and quite private. And he used to tell me about the different workers turning up every day, and how difficult that was with Mum having dementia and being anxious and trying to explain what was going to happen. But also, for his own privacy, he used to say to me that, ‘They’re like strangers turning up every day. Just leave us alone, we don’t need these services. We’re going to cope on our own.’ Which clearly they couldn’t,” he says.

“And so, it was that exposure to my mum and dad’s situation that really made me think about a different way of organising support for them and giving them a way to choose people from their community.

“And if they could choose who supported them, it might disarm some of this resistance they had to getting support at all. And this spread to my dad, who was English and long to be buried in England and had this romantic notion of his childhood, and eventually the only people that he was interested in talking to at that time in his life were people from England where he could have these nostalgic conversations. I started thinking about how we could find him connections, [so] that he might actually enjoy their company.”

Mable support worker Jo Calabria likes the freedom Mable offers. She can set her own rates and pick and choose her own schedule.

“I control when I change that hourly rate… [other] companies set their own rates and how much they pay you, whereas on Mable I’m able to factor in my expenses.

“The app is good in the sense of being able to clock in and out of my shifts and be able to see jobs that have popped up,” she says.

“[Users] specifically looked at your profile and they’ve picked you, so you know you’re going into a home because they’ve picked you.”

Mable’s model shares traits with gig economy apps such as Uber and the many food delivery businesses that have popped up as technology has evolved, and these companies are often criticised for the pay and rights afforded to workers.

But Scutt dismisses any of these negative similarities and stresses that it is about choice, not only for the user, but for the workers.

“I think when you look at the platforms, you’ve got to understand they all operate differently, and they’re solving different problems. And platforms that are based on trying to exploit workers for example, just don’t have a future, right?

“Our client base is just as much the person that needs the support, as it is the person that offers the support. And if we’re not delivering a better outcome to both parties, we don’t have a business. We only are relevant to the extent that people come and connect via the platform, they’re getting a good outcome,” he says.

“There’s enormous opportunity for them to earn more, with the potential for consumers to pay less, and for people to offer the services that they’re passionate about. And so, there’s lots of workers that are earning very good rates off the platform, supporting clients and choosing them around services they’re passionate about supplying. And our model is really to unlock the potential of people that do incredibly important work, and allow them to take on responsibility and to be rewarded for that.”

“So I think each platform solves a different problem, operates in a different model. But ours, we are very much, truly enabling people to run their own small business, and make all decisions about their business.”

The government strategy will be funded as part of the $101.2 million made available for Age Care measures – part of the Federal Government’s $2.4 billion support package announced on March 11.

Healthcare solutions provider Aspen Medical has been engaged to deploy the emergency response teams immediately to an aged care facility if a significant outbreak occurs.

“In an emergency situation, where large parts of the workforce or specific skills can’t be sourced through existing channels, providers can access the Mable workforce platform to recruit workers in nursing, allied health, personal care, domestic assistance and social support service,” Minister Colbeck said.

“I want to stress these are temporary contingency measures and providers must show they’ve exhausted usual recruitment channels.

“There’s every chance these extraordinary measures won’t be required in full – but it’s vital we are ready.”

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