The number of people receiving aged care services either in the community or a residential facility is rapidly increasing. Most aged care facilities provide proper service, yet, people’s expectations differ from the care they receive. People seeking help are advised to speak up and address any issue they have but may not know the proper channels to follow. Addressing these shortcomings is important.
Since the beginning of the year, Aged Care Complaints Commissioner has been tasked with helping people address their concerns about aged care through her new independent complaints program and has opened offices in seven cities across Australia with the sole purpose of helping people have a platform where they can raise issues regarding the aged care service industry.
Complaints are a positive thing as they are great opportunities to improve care. Service providers should encourage and welcome complaints, and treat them as part of the opportunity to improve the service, said Aged Care Complaints Commissioner, Rae Lamb.
The government separated complaints handling from the department’s funding and regulatory role. The responsibility to address potential concerns was handed over to Ms. Lamb as an independent statutory office holder.
Ms. Lamb is not only focused on solving complaints. She is hoping to provide education for both providers and service users about the best approach to deal with complaints. She hopes that by working with service providers, they can work through complaints in a positive manner that will be beneficial to the services they provide.
Complaints directed to the Complaints Commissioner can be about anything related to aged care including:
- Health and personal care
- Consultation and communication
- Physical environment and personnel
The department looks into the merits of the complaints without any conflict by providing a fair and impartial environment for all parties involved. They provide neutral grounds for any person wishing to voice a complaint.
Retirement villages are not government funded and are not within the scope of the Complaints Commissioners. However, they can still deal with complaints regarding home care or residential care services from residents living in the village who are receiving these services.
If you use a Government funded aged care service, and you are unhappy with the service provided to you, you should speak up and have the Complaints Commissioner help you out. Ms. Lamb and her team are available to help anyone – residents, family, staff, or third parties. They do however encourage people first to try and resolve the matter directly with the provider. If no action is taken, then the person should contact them for more assistance.
Complaints need to be handled as soon as possible because they tend to escalate. When issues heighten, relationships break and communication becomes an issue, making it harder for the Commissioner to settle.
Most people who have cause to make a complaint usually don’t, especially in areas such as health, disability, and aged care services because these people have ongoing care needs and are dependent on the service. It is entirely understandable for people not to raise concerns when they are frail, vulnerable, or unwell as they depend on the ongoing relationships and services for survival.
It is possible to make anonymous complaints if there is fear of repercussions but it would be harder to settle the issue since the Complaints Commissioner is unable to verify the information or seek further information about the complaint. Ms. Lamb’s team encourages people to, at least, make a confidential complaint so they can deliver better, well-researched results.
In such cases, the Complaints Commissioner will conduct a thorough investigation, leaving the name of the complainants out, but at the same time, keep them up to date on the progress. This gives them a comprehensive understanding of the complaint and will be able to discuss what and how to deal with it.
From past experiences, Complaints Commissioner has managed to resolve cases by dealing with all parties involved. It can be done through facilitated meetings, informal or formal conciliation or service providers where the providers are asked to address the issue and assess what the provider has done before deciding whether to take further action. The Complaints Commissioner also has the clearance and ability to conduct a formal investigation.
In cases of anonymous issues like cleanliness or shower schedules odd times of the night, her staff is available to conduct site visits, both announced and unannounced instead of only relying on the information they have.
The Complaints Commissioner can issue formal directions to service providers requiring certain actions if they feel that the matter is serious and is not addressed adequately They can make referrals for considerations whether to take compliance action against a care provider and raise a concern with the Minister of Aging if she feels that the matter is of primary public interest.
Complaints are not always a bad reflection for service providers. Ms. Lamb argued that having no complaints isn’t necessarily a good thing. No complaints give the illusion that the care provider does not encourage nor embrace claims. It is easier for people to speak up and raise complaints when there is a good flow of communication and good relationship within a community.
Before entering into a service, individuals are advised first to have a non-confrontational discussion with the organization regarding how they deal with issues that might arise. Having a clear understanding of how things work and what to expect can keep complaints at a minimal, or at least help a person gain a clear picture of the organization beforehand.
Many complaints revolve around the same issues and service providers can learn from past solutions and hopefully improve care and services for everyone in aged care service.
Ms. Lamb and her team can be contacted through their website or by calling the national number 1800 550 552. An agent will direct you to an Aged Care Complaints Commissioner office closest to you. This service is free and available Australia wide.