As children we get taught that when we do something wrong, we should apologise and say we’re sorry.

So why is it that as adults, and organisations, we struggle to admit fault and apologise when things go wrong?

In aged care, there is often more focus on fixing, or historically even covering up, the problem that people simply forget to apologise and seek forgiveness.

With negative aged care stories becoming more frequent and more vocal through the media, it appears that there are a lot of facilities that need to send their apologies.

The Aged Care Complaints Commissioner, Rae Lamb, recently wrote an article about “The Power of an Apology”.

“I have worked in complaints for many years, and one of the key lessons I have learned is the power of an apology. I’ve learned that something as simple as an apology can reduce the anger and distress people may be feeling.”

“It supports continued or improved positive and respectful relationships between the service provider and a complainant. In short, it helps to quickly resolve most complaints!”

In her piece, she talks about how in 2013 NSW Deputy Ombudsman Chris Wheeler said the effectiveness of appropriate apologies had been overshadowed by this idea, from society in general and by the caution of lawyers, that apologies are associated with “unacceptable risk taking”.

He said, “It is well past the time that we reverse this trend and recognise that the giving of apologies is not only the ethically and morally right thing to do when mistakes for which we are responsible have caused harm, but also in a very practical sense a very powerful risk management tool”.

Rae Lamb agrees. “For a service provider, saying sorry when something has gone wrong is the right thing to do morally, and it’s the right thing to do for your organisation.”

“When people approach us with complaints, we often see that an early acknowledgement of a failure in care and a good apology goes a very long way to taking the heat out of these issues, allowing the parties to focus on resolving them.”

It should be noted that an apology is not an automatic admission of guilt, and not about laying blame.

What an apology should be is a recognition that the service provided has not met expectations of the consumer and that things could have been done better.

Obviously, not all problems that happen in aged care can be resolved with an apology, however, that is not an excuse for why one shouldn’t apologise.

What should happen is that a problem is resolved and then an apology is given to admit a mistake was made.

Lamb continues, “when the single aged care quality framework replaces the current accreditation and quality standards next year, service providers will have to demonstrate that they practice open disclosure when things go wrong. This means not just telling people about what has occurred, but also saying sorry.”

According to Lamb, hospitals and health services in Australia are already required to do this. And aged care should be no different.

“Aged care is a growth industry and we need to weave into that industry a culture that quickly says sorry when things go wrong, before it’s too late to apologise,” says Lamb.

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