The Royal Commission into Aged Care is finally underway. Commissioners are asking providers to supply information, and the first hearings are scheduled for January. Every aged care provider in Australia will be affected, and will be asked to open up their operations to an unprecedented degree of scrutiny.
No doubt this sharpened focus may be met by some trepidation in the industry, and a degree of uncertainty about what is required. There may also be some concerns about what the consequences of greater transparency may be – particularly for aged care providers that may have to reveal unfavourable information about their operations.
Lawyer Laura Kerridge, of law firm Russell Kennedy, told HelloCare there are five key ways that operators can ensure they will be prepared to comply with the requirements of the Royal Commission.
- Document management
If they do not already have one in place, approved aged care providers should implement a robust document management system. Documents must be complete, and easy to retrieve at a moment’s notice.
If the operator feels that they don’t have the necessary staff in-house to set up appropriate systems, then they may consider engaging a third-party information system provider to help them establish these systems.
- Collate submissions
Providers should identify and collate any contributions they have made to previous reviews or inquiries, to crystallise their thinking about possible areas of reform.
If the operators have a strong view on, for example, staff ratios, or the availability of GPs in nursing homes, then those views should be clarified, clearly articulated, and carefully documented.
- Issues identification
Aged care providers should identify potential risk areas, for example, areas where they may have been found to be non-compliant with the aged care quality standards. This may be an area that some operators don’t wish to draw attention to, but during a Royal Commission, complete transparency is required.
If issues have been identified in the past, consider if systems were adequately improved, or are further changes are required? Your aim should be to demonstrated to the Royal Commission that any problems have been identified, analysed and fully and effectively addressed.
- Identify key contributors
Providers should identify which staff will help with the work involved with the Royal Commission. For example, who would you want to give evidence on behalf of the organisation if the need arises? Who has the most complete information and who would be able to properly articulate it in a way that you would be satisfied with?
Also consider who would be most suitable collate data from the aged care facility or facilities, and help with writing and compiling reports and submissions?
Put an active communications strategy in place that keeps residents, families, carers and staff fully informed of the process. The Royal Commission is likely to receive a great deal of media attention. Even the Prime Minister himself warned Australians to brace for “bruising” stories to emerge from the investigations.
It’s important to reassure all relevant parties by keeping them up to date with each stage of the Royal Commission, what you are doing to comply with any requests, and to inform them of any changes you are consequently implementing.
When transparency means revealing unfavourable information
Operators may be concerned about the consequences if they reveal unfavourable information about their operations. But Ms Kerridge says transparency is key, and recommended that operators show how they have improved their systems if a negative event has occurred in the past.
“The Commission has broad powers to compel approved providers to provide information and/or produce documents. As such, while approved providers may be concerned about opening themselves up to legal action by adopting a transparent approach, in reality they will have little choice but to do so,” she said.
“Where approved providers are compelled to provide information and/or produce documents that are unfavourable to them, we encourage them (where there is scope to do so) to highlight how their practices, policies, systems or documentation have changed since the event or series of events the subject of the unfavourable disclosure.”