The aged care sector is facing testing times as providers seek to retain the quality of their service while faced with significant reduction of government funds.
However, this is a challenge that Andrew Kinnersly (pictured) is prepared to meet as he takes up the role of Uniting AgeWell (UA) Chief Executive Officer.
Mr Kinnersly joined Uniting AgeWell from Ballarat Health Services in early October, and has enjoyed visiting a number of UA facilities across Victoria and Tasmania.
He acknowledges that the aged care sector is facing a rocky road, but he also believes there is much to look forward to.
“There are challenges, but there are also exciting opportunities,” Mr Kinnersly.
Federal government changes to the Aged Care Funding Instrument (ACFI) mean that UA is set to lose approximately 15 per cent of its revenue.
Mr Kinnersly stressed that every effort will be made to maintain the levels of service expected by UA’s clients.
“We will do whatever we can to limit the impact on our clients, but there is no doubt that when you remove that volume of funding, we’ve got to look at every opportunity to reduce expenditure,” he said.
“In terms of what that looks like at an individual client level, I think it will vary on a case-by-case basis, but we’ll do what we can to reduce costs in areas like support services such as our corporate services.”
A report commissioned earlier this year by UnitingCare Australia, Aged and Community Services Australia and Catholic Health Australia found that the reduction in ACFI funding would “have a major impact on the care of frail older Australians”.
“The analysis demonstrates that the proposed funding cuts would have a devastating impact on aged care providers, particularly those caring for highly vulnerable people with complex care needs,” the report said.
Mr Kinnersly believes that people power is needed to reverse or reduce the cuts and urges Uniting Church members to take their protest to the federal government.
“People could lobby their local members in terms of the potential impact of what the funding changes mean to local jobs, to local care provision and to sustainability of services,” he said.
In the meantime, Mr Kinnersly is working with UA’s board and executive team to develop a strategic plan for the organisation. This will clearly articulate strategic priorities and an implementation framework for the next three to four years.
The federal government’s introduction of Consumer Directed Care (CDC) has dramatically changed the provision of home-care packages to the aged, giving clients much more say over the design and delivery of services they receive. Mr Kinnersly is optimistic about the potential this presents to both UA and its clients.
“Going to a market where our clients will have far more choice of provider and of services, means we need to be more dynamic as an organisation, more customer-focused, and more innovative with the services that UA offers,” Mr Kinnersly said.
“The importance of marketing and communicating our services, and facilitating more choice is clearly very high. Growth is also important. A stronger critical mass of services enhances our ability to invest in things such as technology that will enhance service delivery and outcomes for our clients.”
Uniting AgeWell was recently awarded the tender for 273 residential care packages with the Swan Hill Rural City Council, which Mr Kinnersly believes speaks strongly to the reputation of the organisation.
“We’re proud that we won that tender, and we see it as a vote of confidence in the wonderful services that UA provides across Victoria and Tasmania,” Mr Kinnersly said.
“We’re looking to transition these packages into Uniting AgeWell in mid-December 2016, which represents significant growth in our community services.”
The word ‘customer’ is increasingly being used within the community services sector, which causes consternation for some who are uncomfortable with commercial language.
Mr Kinnersly had a diplomatic response to the question of whether people should be called customers or clients.
“I believe we will always have clients and residents, and I also believe we need to have a really strong customer-focus for those clients and residents,” he said
“Terminology throughout Australian healthcare is very much leaning towards customer choice and customer-focused care.
“To be sustainable, UA will need to be very customer focused, but we will never lose sight of the fact that we have residents and we have clients.”
As Mr Kinnersly reflects on his first seven weeks at the helm of Uniting AgeWell, he feels humbled and fortunate.
“When you get to meet the staff, the residents, some of our clients, their families and you see the difference that we make in the lives of so many people, I feel really lucky to be part of this organisation,” he said
“We’ve talked about some of the challenges, but we’ve got some really exciting opportunities to make what is a fabulous organisation even stronger, and I look forward to being part of that journey.”