Spotlight on aged care governance needed

Age care workers are blamed for spreading the virus, but what about boards and board members?

The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing underlying issues in the age care sector, forcing calls for more scrutiny of boards and their role in the crisis.

It’s something the Age Care Royal Commission should include in its recently announced inquiry.

Investigating governance in the sector is not before time

That’s the view of the Governance Institute of Australia, which says there must be no excuse for future missteps.

Megan Motto, CEO of Governance Institute of Australia welcomes the spotlight thrown on boards and governance.

“We are seeing a sector that is grappling with a heavy impact from the pandemic as well as the ongoing spotlight of the Royal Commission into Aged Care, Quality and Safety,” Ms Motto said.

“This is welcome scrutiny for a sector that is responsible for the care of some of society’s most vulnerable – and there is no excuse for future missteps.”

National Seniors recently urged the federal government to liaise with the Royal Commission about increasing resources so it can investigate the cluster of COVID cases in Victorian aged care facilities.

It follows a statement from Commissioner Tony Pagone QC, who said the Royal Commission was unable to investigate the most recent cases in Victoria.

National Seniors CEO, Professor John McCallum says the Royal Commission is the best equipped organisation to manage such an investigation and is urging the federal government to expand its role to investigate the worsening crisis in Victoria’s aged care system.

“It’s hard to think that the Royal Commission is complete if it hasn’t examined the stress test that COVID-19 has placed on the sector,” said Professor McCallum.

Paid leave for workers

The Governance Institute also welcomed the announcement that aged care workers across Australia will receive paid pandemic leave in a bid to stem the spread of COVID-19 – but says it should be up to federal and/or state governments to shoulder the costs.

Ms Motto said that the paid pandemic leave scheme would help deter people from going to work when unwell but unless the costs of the paid leave are covered by the government, more businesses will suffer.

As Victorian and federal authorities try to prevent further COVID-19 tragedies in the state’s aged care homes, experts say the explosion in cases was entirely predictable and that strategies could have been put in place to contain its spread.

To help the embattled sector navigate an increasingly complex set of regulatory and operational challenges the Institute has revised its governance in aged care guide.

“Our guidance assists current and future board members as scrutiny and demands on the aged care sector continue to increase,” Ms Motto said, urging age care provider board members to read it, whether they are new in the role or not, as well as anyone considering taking on a board position.

Losing money?

In the midst of the crisis, questions about the financial sustainability of the sector abound.

The Governance Institute says research from leading aged care consultancy StewartBrown suggest up to 56 per cent of facilities were losing money at an operational level even before COVID-19 struck.

Yet at the same time we hear stories, such as the one recently run in the Australian Financial Review, recoiling at the ostentatious wealth of certain individuals in the aged care industry.

This conflicting view of the industry in both crisis and as a modern day Dracula is difficult to reconcile. It heightens the need for greater transparency over funding and staffing, as National Seniors has called for in the past and will do so again in our upcoming Budget submission revision.