Australians are getting older and living longer. Around four million people in the nation’s population are over the age of 65 – and that means demands on aged care facilities are increasing.
It’s true more older people are choosing to stay in their own home for longer but once this is no longer possible residential aged care is generally their next step. Approximately 300,000 Australians currently use residential aged care on a permanent or respite basis.
Keeping people living in care fit and well is challenging in normal times according to CEO of Homestyle Aged Care Services, Tim Humphries.
That challenge has been magnified with the emergence of COVID-19 and the particular threat that poses for older populations – and the aged care sector. (See box)
For their programs, aged care homes have to rely on input from experts like physiotherapists.
"I've got some friends who are physios and every time one of them does work with a residential aged care home, they ask 'why do you do it like that?' The answer is straight forward – because that's what we're funded for by the government,” Tim says.
"We have to provide more hospital-like care but we're continuing to make it look and feel like a home for our residents. There's a real balance for us in trying to meet those two needs.”
Physiotherapist and CEO of Concentric Healthcare Services Nicholas Young says aged care residents need to have activity and they need to be kept moving. The concept of reablement – helping residents regain and maintain independence and autonomy for as long as possible – is important.
However, Nicholas says he only realised much more could be done by expert practitioners when a colleague's 94-year-old grandmother had a fall in an aged care facility, fracturing her hip.
"She went to an orthopaedic surgeon for a hip replacement. She was mobile so it was okay to perform the surgery," Nicholas explains. "She was discharged back to the aged care facility under the assumption the facility’s physiotherapist would support her rehabilitation and recovery."
That didn't happen. When his colleague's grandmother died two weeks later due to complications associated with the fracture, Nicholas realised things needed to change.
In 2017, Concentric opened its first operation within an existing aged care facility at Ashfield in Sydney's Inner West. The concept involves having a rehabilitation centre on-site that residents can access without having the difficulties associated with travelling to receive treatment.
"A perfect example is a young lady named Sharon. She had a severe stroke when she was 40 and was discharged from hospital into the Ashfield facility because her parents couldn't give her the level of care she required," Nicholas continues.
"Sharon accessed the rehab services we had on-site. With the guidance and direction of our professional staff, over the past two or three years she's been able to rehabilitate herself far beyond what would have happened in a standard aged care facility. So much so, she's now been discharged into specialist disability accommodation, which is much more suitable for someone her age."
Concentric's offering grew with the help of finance from ANZ and they were keen to expand further. The bank's Head of Health, Richard Grayson, saw what Concentric was doing and its positive impact in the community, and introduced Nicholas to Victorian-based Homestyle Aged Care Services, a long-term customer.
"Richard connected us, hoping I could give Concentric a bit of an idea of what the Victorian aged care landscape looked like. After five minutes I thought this is something we probably need to take a serious look at for ourselves," says Tim, whose homes provide care for around 1,000 older Victorians.
Concentric has just opened a rehabilitation centre at Homestyle's new Rowville home, in Melbourne's south-east.
Tim says the partnership required a leap of faith but it makes sense for the long-term health of residents.
"We had to ignore the traditional government funding model, which from a business perspective sounds risky but from a marketing perspective and benefit to residents sounds perfect," explains Tim.
"Concentric has done the research and worked out this is the best way to support residents. For me, this is what we should be doing and the Board understands that our business is all about care. If we can enhance the care we provide, that will strengthen our reputation and enhance our services. I'm pretty confident we'll have a full home in Rowville relatively quickly, and this partnership will definitely contribute to that."