March 23, 2021
The final report from Australia’s Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety is expansive. Volume 1 (there are a 8 separate volumes) is 340 pages long and provides a summary of the final report.
There are 148 wide ranging recommendations for the aged care system in Australia, but keen observers of the industry in New Zealand and around the world have been wondering how some of the recommendations might be applied in their own countries
Of all the recommendations, it is Recommendation #107, perhaps more than any other, that holds the key for future generations of seniors.
The Recommendation, which appears on page 277 of the report, states that the “Australian Government should establish and fund a dedicated Research and Innovation Council.” Furthermore, the commissioners suggest that:
They recommend that 1.8% of the total spent on Aged Care each year be used to establish and fund the Aged Care Research and Innovation Council by July 2022. This is a very good idea, one that could address serious structural problems in the sector and deliver a step change for the industry.
The NZ aged care industry, having read the Royal Commission’s report, can lead by example. Operators are already in a position to future proof their business and cover increasing staff costs by establishing their own Research and Innovation Council. It could result in a generational leap forward for their organisations and have positive flow on effects for the whole healthcare industry.
Recommendation #107 is critical because without innovation in the industry we won’t be able to alleviate the unique pressure that results from an aging population coinciding with a declining aged care workforce.
Think about that. As the number of people needing aged care goes up, the number people left to provide aged care goes down. See the problem?
The combined pressure of these two colliding scenarios is a “future crisis” that will eventually undermine the quality of service we can offer as an industry and, therefore, the quality of life for many New Zealand seniors.
As the number of seniors increases, the number of people living in retirement villages grows. From an estimated 28,000 people in 2012 to an estimated 45,000 in 2019.
Retirement village operators are a major contributor to New Zealand’s housing stock. In a report from July 2020, JLL estimated that 18,000 new retirement units for the elderly are needed in New Zealand within 10 years – representing a 50% increase in the existing stock from around 35,000 units to around 53,000 units.
Strong demand for retirement village units is not only due to an increase in the total number of seniors. Adding to the pressure on housing stock is the fact that retirement villages are more popular than ever. In fact, the total proportion of people 75 years and older that choose to live in retirement villages has grown from around 2% in 1990 to almost 14% in 2020.
People who choose to live in a retirement village often move into the on-site care centre when they become more frail. Pressure on bedspace in resthomes is building and DHB funding for the residential aged care sector has not kept up with the increasing costs of care associated with longer life expectancy.
If this situation continues, and all indications are that it will, then large numbers of people living independently in retirement villages will not be able to move into the care centre due to a lack of space. They will need to stay in their apartment, townhouse or villa
The NZ government, like many other governments, is pursuing a policy of “aging in place”. This involves (among other things) allocating funds to homecare agencies so that their staff can provide care for people in their own home. Which is great in theory, our homecare agencies do an amazing job but they suffer the same demographic and workforce pressures as the retirement village industry.
This is why it is so important that more local operators right across the sector invest in research and development. We don’t have to read the Royal Commission’s full report to know that without innovation the sector faces increasing pressure that could result in declining standards of care.
To paraphrase the Australian Commissioners; Operators should co-fund innovation projects with aged care providers, prioritising R&D that involves co-design with older people, their families and the aged care workforce.
Such innovation can drive huge efficiency leaps that will allow a diminishing workforce to care for an increasing number of clients.
Take Qestral Corporation for example. In 2017 they partnered with Spritely to develop New Zealand’s first age-friendly technology for retirement villages.
The system, which was launched in 2019 enables Qestral’s care centre workforce to provide telehealth care to residents that live independently. At Alpine View Lifestyle Village in Christchurch a single nurse can provide telehealth care for 250 residents.
This kind of low-cost intermediate care, delivered remotely, relieves pressure on bedspace in the care centre because it can delay or eliminate some residents need for resthome care. The flow on benefits of this to individuals, operators and the government are considerable.
Since the system was launched by Qestral, the NZ government has provided help in the form of multiple R&D grants, demonstrating a willingness to support initiatives where operators lead by example.
Spritely was awarded Best Digital Innovation at the NZ Broadband Compare Awards in 2020 and the system is now used by retirement villages, pharmacies, homecare providers, medical alarm companies and NGOs focused on social housing for older New Zealanders.
This model of innovation works. It is already proven to work in New Zealand’s aged care sector and it is exactly what the Royal Commission in Australia has just recommended.
New Zealand operators should not wait to innovate. Recommendation #107 represents a future that is healthier, safer and more connected for our seniors.
Read the final report from Australia’s Royal Commission of Enquiry here.