Tone deaf: aged care providers’ PR campaign strikes wrong note

by | Sep 9, 2020 | Business

Hiring properly qualified staff, staff-resident ratios and a commitment to be transparent and accountable for the $13 billion in annual taxpayer funding would help private providers of aged care “change the conversation” and “win the hearts and minds of middle Australia”. Dr Sarah Russell reports.

In the middle of the biggest reputational disaster to hit privately run aged care, with the preventable deaths of more than 500 residents, private providers have launched a public relations campaign to “change the conversation” about aged care and “win the hearts and minds of middle Australia”.

Rather than agree to fundamental things that would really win the hearts and minds of Australians – such as hiring properly qualified staff, staff-resident ratios, and a commitment to be transparent and accountable for the $13 billion in taxpayer funding they receive every year – the biggest players in the sector, including BaptistCare, Anglicare, Leading Age Services Australia, Aged and Community Services Australia and the Aged Care Guild have engaged Apollo Communications. Apollo Communications is a PR company run by Adam Connolly, former Daily Telegraph political reporter and senior media adviser to John Howard.

It will undoubtedly be more of the same spin we have been hearing for more than 20 years, ever since John Howard deregulated aged care and opened the floodgates to private equity firms, foreign investors, and superannuation and property real estate investment trusts.

Glossy brochures

Their glossy brochures, with pictures of nicely appointed lounge and dining rooms and smiling residents and information on the outings that can be organised for residents, do not contain the key fundamental information that older people and families need to make an informed choice about an aged care home.

The most important information is the number of staff and their training – this is an indicator of standards of care. The public also needs information on a range of quality indicators such as prevalence of pressure sores, weight loss, falls, infection rates and admissions to hospitals. This information is deemed “commercial-in-confidence”.

Who decided that data on residents’ safety and wellbeing in aged care homes must be kept top secret?

The federal government has a long history of being far more concerned about protecting aged care providers – some of whom are multinationals and large superannuation funds – than looking after the interests of those living in residential aged care, most of whom are elderly and frail.

Are political donations protecting Bupa’s aged care licence?

When Dr Brendan Murphy, secretary of the Department of Health, and the Minister for Aged Care Richard Colbeck last month said they would not publicly name the residential aged care homes with outbreaks of Covid-19 because the aged care providers were worried about “reputational damage”, both men were just continuing the secrecy and favouring of corporate interests that older Australians and their families have long had to put up with.

The Aged Care Minister has been repeatedly asked for the data on the number of residents who have died in aged care homes and how many of the cases linked to each home are residents, but he has refused.

Each day, the Victorian government has been naming the 10 aged care homes in Victoria with the largest outbreaks. Figures on the numbers of residents who have died in the “top 12 aged care homes” have now been published, with the numbers confirmed by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services.

St Basil’s tops the list with 44, followed by Epping Gardens 35; Kalyna 22; Twin Parks 20; Kirkbrae 20; Baptcare 18; Mecwacare 18; Estia Ardeer 17; Glendale 17; Japara Sunbury 17; Bupa Edithvale 17; and Menarock Rosehill 16.

If 44 children had died in a childcare centre, the childcare centre would be named on the front page of every media outlet in Australia.

Covid-19 tragedy in aged care: whose side is the Coalition government on?

Consider also the way the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission handles complaints. The Commission does not share with the public complaints made against individual homes.

Surely the public is entitled to know the names of the aged care homes associated with complaints. Would you choose a certain home for a loved one if you knew numerous complaints had been made about staff conduct or medication errors?

Requiring each home to publish a monthly report on the number of complaints received and how each complaint was resolved would undoubtedly help older people and their families to assess standards of care when choosing a home.

Last December, Centre Alliance’s Stirling Griff tabled three critical amendments to the aged care legislation amendment (new commissioner functions) bill 2019 to improve transparency and accountability around complaints, staffing levels and finances in aged care homes. The Coalition voted against all amendments.

Of course the public should be told exactly how much of the whopping $13 billion providers receive from the government each year is spent on looking after residents. After all, it’s taxpayers’ money. Do they spend the government subsidy on nursing care, meals and activities for residents or on salaries and bonuses for their executive team?

Government caves in to a “few big interests”, ignores Aged Care Inquiry reforms

Prior to John Howard’s election in 1996, the main providers of residential aged care were local councils, charities and religious groups. The federal government tightly regulated the nursing home industry. The required number, and the qualifications, of nursing staff was linked to the number of residents and their health. This was monitored to ensure enough staff were available to provide care.

There were some, but not a lot of, commercial providers of aged care because the strong regulations restricted profitability.

However, the election of the Howard Coalition government was a turning point for aged care policy. The Coalition had promised to deregulate the industry and let the market get to work if it won. Moreover, the commercial providers, which had close ties to the Coalition, helped write the Aged Care Act 1997.

The new legislation made investing in aged care homes more lucrative for private investors primarily because it cut out the requirement for set staffing numbers and qualifications. The Act stated that providers were required to employ “adequate numbers of appropriately skilled and trained staff”.

This lack of clarity enabled providers to determine what is an “adequate number” and “appropriately skilled”. As a result, private providers employed fewer staff; replaced registered nurses with much less skilled staff; and took the nurses out of nursing homes.

The aged care sector needs structural reform, not a PR campaign. Let’s start with an Aged Care Act that focuses on the human rights of older people rather than the profits of providers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr Sarah Russell

Dr Sarah Russell

Dr Sarah Russell is a public health researcher who specialises in qualitative research. She has been the Principal Researcher at Research Matters since 1999. She is also the Director, Aged Care Matters. She believes the aged care system requires greater scrutiny, accountability and transparency.

24 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Great article Sarah.

    The last thing we need to see is a BUPA sponsored helicopter rescuing stranded swimmers from our scenic coastal surf, with the mandatory audio message about how Aged Care Providers are looking after Australians.

    The Royal Commission cannot be clearer – fix up the NEGLECT of elder frail Australian’s and give us FINANCIAL TRANSPARENCY where the taxpayer monies have gone. We do not need any more Marketing Messages..

  2. Avatar

    I’ve been involved in private residential care since 1982 and it was a sustainable industry at that time. There were many private facilities at that time that concentrated on caring for the residents first and foremost. Sure Howard deregulated the sector, closed asylums and looked up to find foreign investment operating homes within the guidelines as they do today.

    Scott Morrison as treasurer attacked the sector and cut ACFI funding (2015/16) by 30% and continued the attack which has resulted in the majority of homes running at a loss.
    The only reason that aged care was privatised was, and nothing has changed, that the Government simply run anything inside a budget. At no time during the inception of private care was the expectation that facilities would not be able to make a reasonable return on the investment.
    The comment above saying “preventable deaths” is a disgrace and Sarah you should be better than that.
    A grossly underfunded sector was subjected to a pandemic. State governments (all) insisted that nursing home residents weren’t able to access appropriate care in a hospital and needed to remain in facilities. In my opinion this is akin to murder.
    The government absolutely knew that most facilities were unable to isolate and keep residents safe from infection yet they gave homes an impossible task. If the first suspected covid residents were transferred to hospital there wouldn’t have been anywhere near the deaths. To say that these deaths were preventable with our hands tied behind our backs and unable to follow best practice and common sense is a disgrace.

  3. Avatar

    Mandated qualifications and personnel ratios related to various levels of care needed to be provided is essential. It is appalling that no minimums are set. Facilities wanting to boast of even better care could ensure even more and better qualified staff to patients but minimum are a necessity.

  4. Avatar

    Sarah ,
    This is very light weight all pop culture no real suggestions except more transparency,less funding,more staff. It is an article that merely talks headlines .
    The real tragedy is you with your expertise are unable to advise why there are more cases are in Victoria than the rest of Australia.

    • Avatar

      There is a lot of information available on a raft of publicly accessable media.
      Why should this writer who is focussing on one particular aspect of the current difficulties pander to your lack of personal research?

      • Avatar

        It merely goes to the quality of her writing .and the inadequate way it is expressed which you seem to agree with
        Where is the accurate discussion of the Victorian issues .Not on the ABC ,SMH Australian.?
        I would have thought an expert would be able to deal with this but you do not agree

    • Avatar

      John – would you like to share your thoughts on the Royal Commission’s interim report titled “Neglect” and the findings in that report – it is the Commonwealth who is in charge of Aged Care and all Covid-19 has done is to highlight the abysmal state if this sector.

      • Avatar

        Ron I have read it but it only deals with an extremely small sample which is not surprising ..It is not pretty but nowhere does it offer a solution ,It would be wrong to make a comment on it until we see the full report .
        How much of the commentary is srtictly relevant to the number of days people are being cared for e.g a home of 100 equals 36500 days on which incidents can occur multiply that be number of days for each residents so statistically it may not be as high as the glib headlines report . I am not saying it is perfect .
        But why is it so much worse in Victoria is a real question that needs answering and understanding was it State Govt incompetence or Federal.
        We need less screaming without facts but real answers which we have not seen

      • Avatar

        John – my service business has placed more than 3,500 care recipients into Commonwealth regulated and subsidised residential care in all states of Australia- I also have experience as Admissions Manager of a large NFP in Melbourne, so i believe i have the credentials to offer an opinion.

        The sector (as it is today) is completely stuffed – there are rorts that have been built on rorts – and the very people that the sector has been built to help (the frail elderly) are last in line for any benefits – God help you when you refer back to your comments when you have to experience this sector.

      • Avatar

        John – my service business has placed more than 3,500 care recipients into Commonwealth regulated and subsidised residential care in all states of Australia- I also have experience as Admissions Manager of a large NFP in Melbourne, so i believe i have the credentials to offer an opinion.

        The sector (as it is today) is completely stuffed – there are rorts that have been built on rorts – and the very people that the sector has been built to help (the frail elderly) are last in line for any benefits – God help you when you refer back to your comments when you have to experience this sector.

      • Avatar

        Ron , I have been involved in the NFP sector for over 40years and have had family treated in the sector so your smear does not not help.Your service business does that merely mean you make a living from that rather than being actively contributing

      • Avatar

        John – I have read your other “contributions” to discussions and i now realise that you have absolutely no idea of what you are talking about.

        As far as contributing to our society – we have made a difference – and we will continue to do so – we know that -you don’t. .

      • Avatar

        Ron that makes 2 of us that have no idea. I find your comments degenerating into being offensive

    • Avatar

      You are criticising what I see as a fair appraisal of the situation in the aged care sector. Your criticism should be reserved for the federal government, not those who are trying to improve the situation. The article “merely talks headlines” because it is just a precis of the situation.

      The reason why there are more cases are in Victorian aged care system than the rest of Australia is because there was an outbreak of the disease in Melbourne and the federal government’s failures in aged care policy and planning failed to protect the aged care residents there. No doubt the same situation would occur if the outbreak had been in another state.

      • Avatar

        It is obvious you are a Victorian and totally unaware of QLD and NSW And SA . The evidence is that Dan’s management was bad and possibly incompetent the other issue was it an arrogance that he knows everything about .pandemic’s but even his health office admits he does not. Remember the hotel quarantine issue designed and run by Dan and the cause evidence is suggesting hotel quarantine was responsible.

  5. Avatar

    My late mother used to live by herself in Mosman, Sydney. Carers would come and do their thing. Unfortunately, this included taking home, for theselves, what was in the fridge.

    A complaint would be lodged, the carers changed and the same looting of the fridge of an elderly person would continue.

    Until this culture is changed, nothing is going to change.

    I live in India where a lot of disparaging words would be spoken of India and Indians. Greed has overcome this world that we live in. And the consequences are unfolding before our very eyes.

  6. Avatar

    Australia is disgusting the way it treats its own citizens , i had an aunt in an Australian public hospital, she had an operation and suffered pneumonia as a side effect, she spent time in intensive care but recovered from it , to the shock and disgust of my family we where told that she is barred from being treated in the icu again due to cost , we where then informed that she will be given an injection to put her to sleep, i carefully quoted this statement verbatim, the lawyers helped save her life and the family stayed close at all times that was allowable, naturally the hospital didn’t like this challenge and as such the family went through three months of retaliation from the hospital causing permanent injuries and psychological damage thankfully she recovered with care at home and overseas where she is now full time, none of us would would ever get old in Australia, its not the country I was born into and neither are the people.

  7. Avatar

    I am thankful that there are still those that are willing tho write and tell truth to power in Australia, its something that has virtually disappeared from these shores ,a big thank you for having the courage to stand up to these politicians, while you are still allowed too .

  8. Avatar

    Thank you Sarah and to Michael West Media for keeping us informed, much appreciated

  9. Avatar

    Well done Sarah, much appreciated, great to get the facts

  10. Avatar

    While i agree with the tone and many points in this article, i see one unintended consequence. There us already huge pressure against complaints being made. Using this as a measure of a homes quality provide a big incentive to not record a complaint, to encourage a resident to not formally complain. Also, if all complaints are seen as equal, and a complaint about a bed sore equals one about food presentation, the data becomes far less useful.

  11. Avatar

    glossy brochures – yeah I read that the Malaysian billionaires for-profit aged care homes had lovely glossy brochures to look at

    BEFORE they got your money …

  12. Avatar

    The answer is sack these idiots the LNP government they could not run a chook raffle enough is enough our country is stuffed.

  13. Avatar

    I am an aged care worker, and this the best report I have read to date, if we have true staff:resident ratios most problems would be solved .. ie at least 3 staff (including team leader/med nurse per area for up to 20 residents .. I work in an area where this is one staff member for 18 residents and a team leader who floats between two areas .. its not acceptable yet management state it is “adequate “

QED

Case for Federal ICAC

Quad Erat Demonstrandum

Revolving Doors

Revolving Doors

Video Channel

The West Report

Support Us

subscribe to michael west media

[ Click to find out more ]

Michael West Email

Get Our Weekly Newsletter

Unsubscribe anytime.

Thank you! We'll also confirm via email.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This