With the government’s new one-stop shop for aged care opening its doors on 1 January this year, its new commissioner, Janet Anderson, spoke to HelloCare about her priorities in the new role.

The head of the new Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission said aged care consumers are at the front of her mind.

“Our job is to hold aged care providers to account, the quality and safety of the care and services they deliver, and I must have the consumer, the care recipient, at the forefront of my mind,” Ms Anderson said.

The strength of the new commission is that it brings together “the smarts and expertise” of the already existing Australian Aged Care Quality Agency and the Complaints Commission, she said.

“I don’t have to start from scratch, and that’s a real bonus,” she said, adding that the new commission is looking at “additional opportunities” in the ways that the organisation’s various functions can relate to each other.

“We won’t have some of the subtle barriers which may have existed previously,” Ms Anderson said.

Using information to improve care

Ms Anderson said the new commission must ensure it is making the best use of the huge depth of information it has access to.

“We have information available to us which comes through the accreditation and quality review monitoring work that we do, also the new consumer experience reports, which we are gathering as a routine part of our visits to nursing homes, and also the complaints resolution function that we’ve taken over from the former Aged Care Complaints Commissioner.

“All of those give us insights and information about particular aged care providers which we can assemble into a fairly full picture of the care and the quality and safety of that care that’s been delivered.

“I think that positions us well to assess risk and to move proactively when we sense the emergence of a particular risk profile,” she said.

Preparing for the new quality standards

Ms Anderson said the commission is also working closely with aged care providers to make sure they’re prepared for the new quality standards, which come into effect on 1 July 2019.

“We are encouraging them [aged care providers] to do as much preparatory work as possible to self assess, to make sure that they’re ready to be accredited against those new quality standards, and also to be monitored and reviewed against those standards,” she said.

“It’s a big job,” she observed, but said the work is already well underway.

Greater attention on aged care leading to increased sanctions

Ms Anderson attributed the increase in sanctions observed over the last 12-18 months to a greater level of awareness in the sector regarding how to raise issues.

“The aged care sector has come under significant scrutiny and public commentary in the last 12-18 months and what we’ve discerned is there’s a rising level of awareness that there are places people can register complaints and concerns or make enquiries around particular aged care providers.

“So there has been an uptick in the number of contacts that my prior agencies have had from members of the public and people receiving aged care where they’re raising a question about a particular provider, or they’ve become aware that an audit team is about to go into a nursing home and want to log an issue with us that we might want to explore further when there are staff in the home,” she said.

Ms Anderson said the consumer experience reports also provide a level of information that wasn’t previously available to them.

The information from the consumer experience reports allows the commission to “fine tune our focus when we visit nursing home providers”, she said.

She said unannounced audits have also helped identify some shortcomings in the quality of care.

“It may be that we are in a position to find things on an unannounced visit which may not be as apparent if they have some preparatory time in anticipation of them,” she said.

New quality standards will make audits more thorough

Ms Anderson said she believes the new quality standards will make the audit process more thorough, because auditors will be asking questions based on consumer outcomes.

“I think the introduction of new quality standards from July 2019 will necessarily draw a more concentrated effort from providers,” she said.

“My quality assessors are going into nursing homes, looking at the quality of care being provided using new standards, and will be asking questions which ascertain the extent of compliance against those new standards.

“I think everyone is going to have to lift their game,” she said.

Published or mandated staff ratios not required

Ms Anderson said that the existing aged care quality standards and the new standards sufficiently cover staffing levels.

Thought staff ratios are a matter of “some interest”, staffing levels are “already the subject of scrutiny by my audit teams”, she said.

The existing quality standards require that aged care providers have appropriately skilled and qualified staff, and the new standards talk about the number and mix of members of staff deployed.

Ms Anderson said she was “uninterested” in the debate about increased government funding of aged care, but acknowledged it is an “active conversation” that she is “eager follower” of.

“But I can’t be distracted by it. It is for others to engage with, and to address. Questions of cost and funding are actually not material to the work that I and my staff need to do. Our job is to hold aged care providers to account, and the quality and safety of the care and services they deliver.”

Image: iStock.

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