The delay of the Support at Home Program and what it means for your service

The Labor Government has announced that it would move the start date of the Support at Home program from 1 July 2023 to 1 July 2025.

Delaying the introduction of the Support at Home program will come as a welcome relief to the sector. In the last few years, the entire aged care sector has been challenged in unprecedented ways. COVID-19, critical workforce shortages and financial pressures are just some of the challenges that have left the sector stressed, fatigued and struggling to manage day-to-day operations, let alone planning for the future. At LPA, we have witnessed highly experienced and competent people leaving the sector in droves. Those who are left are doing their best and working above and beyond the call of duty. This confluence of challenges is not yet consigned to history. Regrettably, this storm is still raging and there is no immediate end on the horizon. This environment is far from ideal to introduce yet more changes.

Support At Home Program Delayed

“Preparing for the new era is a complex task and making every day count in terms of preparation is the prudent approach.  The introduction of technology, innovative workforce models and a deep understanding of the operating environment all require long lead times.” 

Common sense has prevailed, and LPA welcomes the decision of Minister Wells to delay the introduction of the Support at Home program.  This decision provides the sector with room to breathe.  It may lessen, but not substantially reduce, the mass exit from the sector.  It is hoped that this delay will result in all stakeholders having the opportunity to meaningfully participate in the consultation process.  This is vital if the reforms are to achieve long-term sustainability and viability for providers.

What does this mean for aged and home care providers?

This hiatus in the reform process should not be seen by providers as a time to take their foot off the pedal in terms of preparing for reforms.  Rather, this should be seen as a gift to the sector of time to get their house in order.  Change is coming, there is no doubt about that.  Australia’s credit card debt is close to $3billion and that signals that budget repair will come and aged care will not be immune from the impacts.  LPA predicts that a sustainable future for home care services will belong to those who have an efficient, effective and consumer-focused model of care and services.  In the past, many home care services have survived in niche markets or due to lack of competition.  We predict that those days are rapidly coming to an end.

This is the time for governing bodies and leadership teams to step by and prepare their services for a new era.  The new era will arrive with a changed regulatory and funding environment.  We are also entering a new ‘normal’ in terms of COVID-19 and a tight fiscal environment.  Another ‘new normal’ is ongoing workforce shortages. The CEDA report: Duty of care: Meeting The Aged Care Workforce Challenge (2021) estimates that within the next decade there will be a shortage of 110,000 direct aged-care workers, and more than 400,000 workers by 2050.  The increased cost of living is driving out many direct aged care workers, as they simply cannot afford to stay in aged care.  The CEDA report also highlights that whilst there is an acute workforce shortage, in stark contrast, there is also a backlog of nearly 100,000 older Australians seeking home-care packages.  The maths is simple: an increase in the number of older people needing care and a decreased workforce capacity.  Most of the Services Managers LPA works with are entering or are in the sunset of their careers.  This ‘brain drain’ will exacerbate the challenges at the very time the sector most needs their experience, knowledge and skills.  Minister Wells also announced the Government will conduct a capability review of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.  Minister Wells said: We will continue to work closely with the Commission to deliver the significant reforms introduced to Parliament, including the extension of the Serious Incident Response Scheme to in-home care, introduction of a new Code of Conduct, establishment of Star Ratings, and new provider governance reforms,”.  So, we can also expect a new era of increased scrutiny and regulatory oversight.

Now is the time for governing bodies and leaders to reset and reframe their organisations to prepare for all aspects of the new era.  Understanding the macro and micro-operating environments and the needs and preferences of present and future consumers is fundamental to success.  A digital technology plan to substantially improve the operational efficiency of the organisation is vital.  Assistive technology is essential to improving the quality and safety of care and services, as well as maximising consumer independence and quality of life.  An effective care/case management model is central to preparing for the new era in terms of clinical safety and quality.

At LPA, our advisors are out in the sector every day supporting services. We are working with governing bodies and management to set them up for success and sustainability. Regrettably, many are starting from a low base and have a long road of preparedness ahead of them.  The prevailing ‘wait and see’ attitude is a huge mistake. It is just delaying the inevitable and squandering valuable time to rethink and implement innovative and sustainable models of care and services.  Preparing for the new era is a complex task and making every day count in terms of preparation is the prudent approach.  The introduction of technology, innovative workforce models and a deep understanding of the operating environment all require long lead times.

The delay of one year is a gift to the sector that must be embraced with determination to use every day to prepare for the new era.  LPA’s tip of the day: don’t waste one day wondering and waiting – Embrace the dawn of the new era and prepare now because you can be assured there are competitors out there who are preparing their organisations to move in on your patch.