Last week, HelloCare invited me to comment on the requirement in the new Aged Care Quality Standards for open disclosure. I suggested all aged care homes and home care providers should be required to report adverse incidents not only to the older person and their family but also on their websites.
I am pleased both Ian Yates (CEO, COTA) and Darren Mathewson (Acting CEO of ACSA) have contested this idea for improving transparency. I always welcome debate. A public debate about transparency in the aged care sector is long overdue.
My research on residential aged care and in-home care indicates the public want more transparency in the aged care sector. Although many people, myself included, believe the care of frail older people istoo important to be left to the whims of the free market, both COTA and ACSA promote lighter regulation and a consumer driven and market based system, as outlined in the Aged Care Roadmap.
In a free market, so-called “aged care consumers” require access to information to inform their choice of product. For example, to make an informed decision when choosing an aged care home, “aged care consumers” require information about its standards of care. However, aged care homes are not even required to disclose their rosters/staffing levels. How can people make informed decisions about an aged care home’s standards of care when they do not have access to this vital piece of information?
In addition to staffing levels, I have tried unsuccessfully to get data on adverse incidents in aged care homes such as the incidence of pressure injuries, dehydration, malnutrition, medication errors and falls. This information is needed not only to help people make informed decisions when choosing an aged care home but also for an evidence-based discussion about standards of care.
The most common reason providers give for not sharing clinical indicators with the public are: (1) Privacy and (2) Commercial-in-confidence. It is not surprising, therefore, that Ian Yates opposes my suggestion for all adverse incidents to be reported on a providers’ website because it “would raise privacy and other issues”.
In my view, claims about breaching privacy are a red herring. I will use 2 examples to illustrate this.
When my mother had a fall in an aged care home that contributed to her premature death, the manager informed me and apologised (i.e. open disclosure). I am not suggesting the provider should post on the company’s website “Joan Russell had a preventable fall that contributed to her premature death”. Of course that would be a breach of my mother’s privacy.
I am instead suggesting the company be required to publish information about the adverse event. This would include information such as: a fall occurred in the lounge room, the date of the fall and how/why it occurred. The web site should also contain information about what the aged care home has done to prevent a similar adverse event occurring to other residents.
A 94-year-old woman was resuscitated in an aged care home despite having an advanced care plan stipulating ‘Do Not Resuscitate’. The aged care home did not practice open disclosure. The daughter had to fight to find out why/how/who resuscitated her mother.
In my view, the aged care home should be required to share information about this adverse event with the public without breaching the resident’s privacy. The public need to know the policies and procedures have been introduced to ensure other residents are not resuscitated against their wishes.
Several years ago, I asked Ken Wyatt to improve transparency in the aged care sector. I suggested public access to all reports produced by the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency by linking them to the ‘My Aged Care’ website.
Ken Wyatt took my suggestion to the Aged Care Sector Committee. The minutes of the meeting (obtained under Freedom of Information) show that Ian Yates opposed this suggestion for increased transparency. The committee decided the information in these reports was “too technical” for the public to understand. In my view, this was patronizing.
In the 1980s, I was part of a group of registered nurses in an intensive care unit who advocated for open disclosure policies. These open disclosure policies are now legislated in all public health services. I would like to see similar legislation in the aged care sector. I also welcome public discussion about this idea.
Dr Sarah Russell is the Director of Aged Care Matters. Aged Care Matters is a voluntary advocacy group that seeks solutions via dialogue between key stakeholders.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelloCare.