Aged care crisis highlights need for improved governance
As a potential second wave of COVID-19 threatens NSW, now is the time for better governance and risk management, writes Megan Motto.
Former NSW premier Morris Iemma is back in the headlines, speaking out about the urgent need for governance and risk management gaps in the aged care sector to be filled as a second wave of COVID-19 threatens the state.
Problematic staffing and clinical governance in aged care have been pinpointed as weak links in keeping the pandemic under control and we are seeing this play out to devastating effect in Victoria.
The fear is that NSW is not far behind.
Aged care workers carry out some of the most difficult, repetitive and often thankless tasks day in, day out. But they are also responsible for some of the most important work in our society, and it is typically carried out with respect and care.
But it hasn’t just been the health impact of the virus hitting aged care centres that has made life so tough for staff lately.
When the pandemic swept in, two very important sources of assistance for employees were swept away: volunteers and family members of residents, barred in many cases from entering centres.
This was an essential move but it has sadly meant that these groups, who often provide vital extra care and assistance, can no longer be on-site to provide help to busy staff.
Work burdens therefore continue to grow in a perfect storm of increasingly trying conditions.
Thankfully there are plans emerging to help the beleaguered sector with employees set to be the first to receive paid pandemic leave in a bid to help stem the spread of COVID-19.
Governance Institute has strongly welcomed this move which will help deter people from going into work when unwell but has argued that unless the costs of the paid leave are covered by the government, more businesses will suffer.
The proposed introduction of paid leave of course isn’t the cure-all – particularly given the high number of casuals in the workforce who would not be covered by this plan.
There is still much more that needs to be done. And much of this comes back to improving governance.
While boards in the aged care sector grapple with the crisis, they need to ensure there is a focus on good governance in order to overcome the immediate hurdles and also to set their organisation up for recovery.
Governance Institute recently revised and relaunched its adding value to governance in aged care guide to help the embattled sector navigate an increasingly complex set of regulatory and operational challenges.
This guide is mandatory reading for anyone currently on the board of an aged care provider — whether they are new in the role or not — as well as anyone considering taking on a board position.
While more than 1 million people currently receive aged care services in Australia, by 2050 this is expected to grow to more than three and a half million as the population ages and advances in medical technology increase life expectancy.
This means that even when we are past the current crisis, scrutiny and demands on the aged care sector will continue to increase.
Placing an urgent focus on governance now will help ensure the future health – and potentially the survival – of many organisations in the sector.
Megan Motto is the CEO of Governance Institute of Australia.