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Tracey Spicer announced as new ambassador for provider Your Side

Your Side, a support service for older people, and people living with disability or mental health and their carers, recently announced award winning journalist and broadcaster Tracey Spicer AM as its new ambassador.

Aged Care Insite spoke with Spicer to find out what her role entails and why she has teamed up with Your Side.

ACI: Why be an ambassador for an aged care provider?

TS: We live in an ageing society, yet we don't talk about it nearly enough. Too often, when people realise they need support it’s too late. They're starting from a point of crisis, such as a fall and hospitalisation, and not a plan.

It’s also an issue that impacts women in so many ways: its women who are the majority of the workforce, women who do the bulk of unpaid care of their elders, and women who are the majority of aged care service recipients because they live longer.

How has your life experience shaped that decision?

As a family, we cared for my dear mum Marcia after she was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer more than 20 years ago. Then, I cared for grandad in the last few years of his life. Now, the extended family is working together to organise support for my darling dad, who turned 80 this year and suffers from emphysema.

Every family has stories like this, and these experiences give you a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by Australians as they age, and the pressure on carers.    

What does an ambassadorship entail?

I’m here to help highlight some of the issues that people are trying to solve in aged care, and also to highlight where good work is being done so we can all learn from that.

I want people and their families to be ready and prepared for getting older, as much as they can. We all deserve to age with dignity, and if you get the right help at home, like access to support with heavy cleaning or preventative allied health care, most of us can spend many years safely at home and fully engaged with our society.

If our elders are happy, safe and contributing, we all benefit.

What have you seen from Your Side that you've been impressed with?

Your Side puts the older person at the centre, and works to ensure the system suits the needs of people. They also share a willingness to have challenging conversations when it’s needed – like talking to parents about their plans and needs even if it’s uncomfortable, or talking about what needs to happen on a systems level to make things better for older people.

Your Side is trying to help people navigate a very complex system, and there is a huge need for that. Meeting the team I was struck by the combination of leadership with kindness and empathy – so clearly what’s needed.

What have your thoughts been on aged care services more broadly as the Royal Commission has played out?

The Royal Commission has highlighted cases of abuse, and that needs to be fixed by providers and government with urgency. Everyone can agree on that.

But we also need to talk about structural issues that we simply have to face – like how to pay for the quality care of an ageing population while we have relatively fewer people of working age.

The system is needlessly complex, and people can get lost trying to find the right services for them. It needs reform so that people can get the right help at the right time. The Commission has highlighted this, but it is going to take a lot of will from government to make the changes needed.

There's also a workforce problem that will require a co-ordinated, Australia-wide response. We need to reduce the length of time in the home care waiting lists, and recruit and train a workforce to actually do the work.

The projected demand for workers far outstrips current supply, and the existing workforce earns in many cases a dollar more an hour than minimum wage. We just won’t see the improvements in quality care we expect unless we improve pay and training for workers in this field.

This pandemic has taught us a lot about which roles are really essential, and aged care workers were on the front lines every day trying to keep older people safe. If we want good care, we need to make sure we have a well-trained and reasonably paid workforce. The scale of this will require providers to work together to provide a pathway, but it will also require significant government leadership.

Tracey Spicer AM is a multiple Walkley Award winning author, journalist and broadcaster and the Ambassador for Your Side.

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