Care from the cloud
As the pace of aged care sector transformation accelerates, leaders and care providers are spearheading innovation and disruption to ensure continuity and quality of care for older Australians.
Workforce shortages, rising demand, regulatory changes and funding pressures are putting mounting pressure on providers, with the 2022-23 data snapshot from the Department of Health and Aged Care suggesting that the number of residential aged care services has dropped by around 32, from 2671 in 2022 to 2639 in 2023.
Regional areas have been reported to be the most affected, with some residential facilities operating at half capacity, primarily due to staffing issues.
Providers are also weathering increased costs for agency staff to fill gaps in their permanent workforces, with industry data showing that agency costs have more than doubled since 2022, from $7.18 per bed day in March 2022 to $17.04 per bed day in March 20231, according to Council for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA). This leads to a significant increase in costs for a sector that is already struggling to make ends meet.
Disruption and innovation
A relatively new aged care provider, Apollo Care Alliance, founded in 2017, is supporting and de-risking smaller, distressed providers, turning them around in terms of financial performance and helping achieve full compliance and accreditation.
Equity capital specialist John Young was the one who saw the future need for an organisation like Apollo Care, CEO Stephen Becsi told Aged Health.
Becsi and Young are two of the founders of the Alliance — the other two being former CEO of Domain Aged Care (now Opal) Barry Ashcroft and Kylie Radburn, former National Care Governance Manager at Aveo.
“As early as 2014, there was real validation through Living Longer Living Better and the Productivity Commission report in aged care that the demand for aged care was going to outstrip supply and that the sector would need to go through significant structural reform,” Becsi said.
“Bringing together some successful aged care experts with operational expertise with NFP, private and governance with experts who understood industry-wide structural reform allowed us to create the right vehicle to leverage a future partially deregulated environment.
“Moving forward 10 years with COVID, removal of licences in July 2024, closing down of nursing homes, tightening of governance and regulations, consolidation of providers etc, John’s analysis of the sector was proven to be correct.
However, like most providers, staffing is a massive challenge for the Alliance. “If you were to ask me what’s the greatest problem facing the aged care sector, particularly regional markets — I’d say it’s staffing,” Becsi said.
Tackling staff shortages
The Alliance is constantly investing in workforce and culture to overcome staffing challenges, Becsi said. This includes provision of handheld mobile devices for every care worker, measuring job satisfaction and productivity across the organisation via proprietary dashboard and innovative staffing models.
For example, earlier this year when the Alliance and The Shelter Collective in Queensland opened affordable homes for women aged over 55, tenants were offered training and employment opportunities as care workers, cooks or cleaners at an adjacent facility.
This offered an extra level of financial security and independence to the tenants while also addressing the number one issue in aged care — staff attraction and retention.
A virtual operating model
The Alliance already owns a total of nine facilities with a total of around 750 beds across Australia, including regional locations in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.
It has replaced the traditional head office with a virtual operating model, supported by a flexible and scalable technology model — key business functions such as human resources, finances, information communication and technology (ICT), culture and performance, marketing and sales support are outsourced to other businesses.
“We do not have any legacy, we’re in the cloud… our combined board expertise allows us to drive our organisation in a way that improves quality of care while also increasing productivity and profitability,” Becsi said.
Each facility operates like an independent provider, but with operational and financial support of the Alliance, with board of directors from the community and the board of Apollo Care Alliance. The structure allows the organisation to preserve the original constitution and the local brand, Becsi said.
The ‘balanced scorecard’ approach
The Alliance uses the Age-rite platform that allows them to track the wellbeing of its residents, carers, managers and leaders in real time.
Created by the cultural engineering firm Apellon, the platform analyses data to help the organisation identify and focus on activities that increase productivity; create better leaders; improve staff engagement; increase efficiency through better use of resources; and improve quality of care and life for residents.
Separately, there is a ‘balanced scorecard’ approach, with a strong focus on culture, which is based around four behaviours — put residents first; quality and safety in everything we do; work together, achieve together; and use your resources wisely.
The Alliance recently won two major awards — Innovation of the Year (Productivity) and Trailblazer of the Year — 2023 (for CEO Stephen Becsi) — at the 11th Asia Pacific Eldercare Innovation Awards 2023 in Singapore.
“We’re living proof that investors, vendors, carers, residents and their families can successfully co-exist in equitable, profitable and enjoyable alliance,” Becsi concluded.
1. “Aged Care Financial Performance Survey Report (March 2023)” (StewartBrown), https://www.stewartbrown.com.au/images/documents/StewartBrown_-_Aged_Care_Financial_ Performance_Survey_Report_March_2023.pdf.
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