A new survey has found that only one in five Australians trust the aged care system, revealing a negative community perception of the sector that needs to be addressed.

The report, from insights agency Faster Horses, is titled ‘Inside Aged Care’ and surveyed over 2000 Australians. It found that although there have been improvements in the ways that aged care is perceived by the wider community, a lot more needs to be done to change negative perceptions and highlight the positive work that is being done.

Improvements from previous years

The study is conducted annually, and this year’s report reveals that there have been improvements in community perceptions of the sector in the last two years. The survey presented participants with a number of statements and asked people to rate them as ‘agree’ ‘disagree’ or ‘don’t know’.

When presented with the statements that aged care organisations ‘treat those in their case with respect and consideration’ and ‘show a great degree of empathy towards those in their case’, participants who selected ‘agree’ were 44% and 43% respectively. This is up from 38% for both statements in 2019.

In almost every area, 2020 results outranked 2019 results, which also were unanimously better than those in 2018.

More work to be done to improve perceptions

However, the results are still cause for concern for aged care providers. The survey found that just 15% of people aged between 60 and 80 have faith in Australia’s aged care system. This is particularly worrying given that this is the age group which is most likely to have need of aged care, either now or in the near future. People over 60 were generally the most critical of the system; only 13% agreed that the sector had handled COVID-19 outbreaks well.

The result for the overall level of trust was not much better, with 22% of all participants agreeing that they trusted the aged care system. Just one-third (32%) of those using an aged care service had a high level of trust in their provider, while only 33% of those with a relative or loved one receiving aged care services had trust in the system. 23% said that the sector had managed COVID-19 outbreaks well.

Interestingly, people with a relative in aged care were more likely to state that the aged care sector had managed the pandemic well. This could potentially indicate that those closest to the situation have a better sense of aged care homes doing their best during the crisis, compared with those whose perceptions were based only on media portrayals of the sector’s failings.

There were some areas highlighted in the survey where the aged care system is seen to be failing more than it is succeeding. When asked if aged care organisations focus on enhancing the mental health of those in their care, 35% said they disagreed, while 34% said they agreed (32% weren’t sure). When asked if aged care organisations offer affordable services and facilities to meet most budgets, 40% said they disagreed, with only 31% agreeing.

How can providers contribute to more positive sentiment in the wider community?

Doubtless, the aged care sector has faced considerable challenges in recent times. The findings of the Royal Commissions have undeniably contributed to the public’s perception of the sector, with specific stories of neglect and mismanagement taking centre stage in media coverage.

However, those involved in the sector know that this is not the full story. Organisations need to foster more positivity and goodwill in the community, by highlighting life-affirming experiences and sharing good news stories from within aged care homes.

There are lots of positive initiatives taking place in Australian aged care homes, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, following the cancellation of the traditional Floriade flower festival in Canberra, BaptistCare Carey Gardens arranged their own ‘Our Floriade’ project. The centre received 2000 seedlings from the Floriade: Reimagined program, as well as plant donations from a location nursery.

Staff developed planters and garden beds so that residents could enjoy the experience of planting and watering. They also brought the flower festival into the hallways of the aged care home with paper flowers, clay leaves, wind chimes and a gnome village on display.

The centres lifestyle coordinator Petrina Becker said it was a very ‘special and memorable’ experience for residents who were disappointed to miss out of the usual festival. ‘We wanted to do something that would bring in aspects of Floriade and give the residents a taste of the community, while still engaging in craft and gardening activities and have something to work towards and together,’ Ms Becker said.

At the Goodwin Village aged care home in Farrer, during strict lockdowns in April, residents were able to enjoy their own personal concert. Residents sang, danced and waved to each other as local entertainer Tony Haley sang and played guitar from the centre car park. The concert was a welcome distraction, taking place on a Thursday evening when residents would usually gather for happy hour. Goodwin Village manager Deb Eivers said that the simple entertainment was a spark of positivity for residents. ‘This is a really positive village and the residents think, “Well, if we can’t have happy hour in the clubhouse, we’ll have it on the balcony”,’ Mrs Eivers said.

All of these initiatives demonstrate that the Australian aged care sector is full of innovative ideas for improving the lives of residents and creating a positive environment for them to thrive in. Hopefully future surveys will show the results of all this hard work.

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