COVID-19 has exposed flaws in the aged care sector. Together, we can craft a solution.

The challenge of COVID-19 has made its way into all industries, and the aged care sector is no different. The impacts of the virus have added a new layer to existing issues that must be addressed within our industry, including numbers of staff, the training process and the findings of the Royal Commission into aged care. What this means is that the industry needs to work harder to prepare for future crises, as well as to establish a unified voice, mission and understanding to present a singular front to the public to rebuild confidence within the sector.

While the Royal Commission’s findings in their interim report have been scathing, the industry should not see this as an attack – rather, it should be viewed as an encouragement to do things differently and better. In this report, the Commission calls for a fundamental overhaul of regulation and funding of Australian aged care, and in the age of COVID-19 this has never been more important.

An excellent recent conversation between Patricia Sparrow and Michelle Grattan highlighted some of the existing issues in the sector, which have been exacerbated by COVID-19. Among these issues was the nebulous definition of aged care, including the conflation with nursing homes – she suggests that one important move going forward would be to determine what services aged care should provide and, from there, determine how funding should work on a community basis in order for the sector to delivered the expected level of care. Of course, part of this would be staff reform and an emphasis on appropriate training.

The industry also needs to be better at communicating appropriate, factual information, using terminology that is accessible to people outside of the sector. There is a lack of understanding around the difference between public and private care – to improve the public perception of the sector, we need to find a way to present unified information so that there can be no misunderstandings.

The schism between public and private facilities needs to be addressed, as there are ongoing issues between these spheres that often come down to a lack of communication – in an ideal world, these systems can work together to maximise the resources that we have access to.

COVID-19 has shone a light on the need for aged care to develop stricter protocols around infection control.  COVID-19 is highly infectious, and we have seen the devastating consequences when it is exposed in aged care facilities.. We must develop legislation and protocols around this matter to prevent future outbreaks to the extent that we have seen recently. Appropriate legislation around staffing levels and training will ensure they have the knowledge, support and equipment required to prevent future outbreaks to the extent that we have seen recently.

Aged care staff are doing their very best.  The aged care sector is made up of passionate people who want to provide the best care possible for some of the most vulnerable members of our community. It is our responsibility to ensure that the industry is properly governed and funded to ensure that happens.