Economic, demographic, social and technological changes are redefining the aged care landscape in Australia. In response to these industry-wide changes, aged care providers face new challenges and will continue to experience unprecedented pressure in the years ahead.
Specifically, how are aged care organisations planning to respond to the challenges and develop their services flexibly to meet the diverse needs of future consumers? In part two of our discussion with Michele Lewis, Chief Executive of mecwacare, she shares more future challenges and the strategies to overcome them. (If you missed the first part of the discussion, click here.)
Challenge: Staff recruitment and retention
Another fundamental concern for meeting the needs of a growing ageing population, both now and in the future, is the skilled workforce that is required to deliver increasingly complex care services. However, by contrast, one of the defining characteristics of the aged care sector are the difficulties attracting and retaining skilled and trained care workers. According to the Department of Health, the average industry staff turnover rate is 25 percent – a rate that is much higher than other sectors and exacerbated by renowned low levels of remuneration.
Currently, mecwacare cares for over 10,000 people each week through a highly integrated service network operated by more than 1000 employees and over 250 volunteers. The organisation also maintains a staff turnover rate that is below the industry average.
“A stable workforce is critical because a more stable workforce creates greater stability for our residents and clients,” Michele said. According to Michele, mecwacare has achieved this level of stability by implementing better recruitment processes that have put a greater emphasis on the values, attitudes and aptitudes of potential employees.
Information technology is also playing a role by providing mecwacare with increased capacity to manage their resources more effectively, which in turn, provides their staff with more time to deliver care.
“Our care and nursing staff are beautiful, peaceful folk who do heroic work, day-in and day-out,” said Michele. “Shifting their time from administrative tasks to direct care contributes to increased satisfaction of both our residents and staff.”
With that said, there is increasing shortage of skilled nursing staff within the sector so the amount of direct care provided by registered nurses is declining. However, with efficient workforce structures in place, Michele expects to see more registered nurses move away from providing direct care and into advisory roles such as clinical consultants that oversee the direct care provided by care staff. As this trend becomes a reality, improving the skills of their workers – both registered nurses and care staff – through ongoing workforce development is also a priority.
“Providing ongoing training and education to staff is a key enabler for increasing the quality of care outcomes,” said Michele. She explained that learning technologies were being considered as way to support staff training and education.
“Learning technologies will enable innovative approaches to workforce development,” explained Michele. “These resources will provide helpful supplements to staff that can be used at the point of care, where the information is needed most. For example, a community-based worker may be able to access mobile education resources remotely, or those staff who use English as a second language may be able to access online documents, presentation, videos or podcast in various languages,” explained Michele.
While not intended to replace requisite training and education, face-to-face mentoring or on-the-job learning, these types of technologies can support ongoing workforce development and help deliver the right training and education to staff, at the right place, at the right time.
Challenge: Demand for flexible, personalised services
A range of innovative developments in the field of assistive technology are also being embraced to facilitate the provision of more personalised care, and support the physical work of care and nursing staff. It is these developments in particular that has Michele most excited about the opportunities for the future.
“Assistive technologies have the power to transform the lives of people, regardless of a person’s age, abilities, or whether they reside in their own home, in the community or in residential aged care,” explained Michele. Assistive technologies cover a broad spectrum of solutions that provide various ways for people to regain independence and be supported without the constant presence of a carer.
Telehealth is one aspect of assistive technology that utilises point-of care solutions to monitor a person’s vital health signs and conditions from a remote location.
“Residents can seek advice from specialised medical practitioners such as wound management specialists, via the internet instead of needing to travel,” Michele explained. “The specialist can monitor the condition of a person’s wound and overall health status, and make decisions about necessary interventions, without the person having to attend a clinic. This greatly reduces the burden of travel and stress on elderly people who live in rural areas.”
Assistive technologies also encompass a range of sophisticated software, gadgets and other equipment such as communication aids, environmental controls, movement sensors, personal alarms, seizure monitors, fingerprint recognition systems and more. As long-term conditions such as dementia and other complex conditions become part of the upcoming challenges, assistive technologies will allow mecwacare to develop specific care models based on individual needs.
“A simple sensor under the door mat means that if a person with dementia walks out the front door, an alarm immediately alerts care staff, whilst GPS technologies can be used to provide an invisible safety net and track the person’s whereabouts,” said Michele. “While assistive technologies should never be relied upon as a substitute for face-to-face care and support, they can empower residents and clients to live independently in many aspects of their lives, which is so important,” explained Michele. “It also empowers nursing and care staff to then concentrate on the most critical elements of their roles,” Michele said.
The strategies described by Michele in this discussion reinforce the vital place for technology in the future of aged care. Advancements in technology will continue to provide significant opportunities for mecwacare and aged care organisations alike, through improved quality, efficiencies, productivity that together, complement traditional human care and support provided by staff.
We’re very interested in learning about more of the industry challenges that will affect your aged care organisation in years to come. Please share these with us below.
(Image credit: mecwacare.org.au)