With the aged care sector facing generational reform, LASA CEO Sean Rooney outlines the importance of steering this change, and why it must succeed.
Good morning, Mr Rooney. Can you tell us about your career prior to becoming CEO of Leading Age Services Australia (LASA)?
I have been fortunate to have pursued roles in areas of national interest and importance throughout my career. I have held senior roles in the public, private and not for profit sectors. A common thread running through all of these roles is that they have been focussed on complex issues (e.g. climate change, community development, health and aged care reform, and poverty alleviation) and that the solutions reside at the nexus of community engagement and collaboration between public, private, not-for-profit, and research sectors.
Let’s talk about LASA. How does the organisation plan to improve the aged care sector?
For more than two years, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has been a spotlight on every aspect of aged care. In March it concluded that the whole system needs transformational change. With this in mind, LASA has a central role to play as the voice of aged care.
We promise our members ‘a strong voice and a helping hand’. This shapes all that we do. We strive to realise respected and sustainable aged care services that deliver care, support and accommodation with quality, safety and compassion – always.
In meeting this challenge, LASA membership affords our members significant value, aligned to their needs; be they providers of care in aged care homes, in-home care and support, or in retirement living and seniors housing. As the nation’s largest industry association for providers of aged care services, we play a leading role in advocacy on policy affecting our sector, and the people they care for. This occurs through stakeholder engagement and advocacy through the media.
During the Royal Commission, LASA appeared in formal hearings on behalf of its members. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have regularly advocated for better processes in protecting aged care residents and staff. Our advocacy is assertive, collaborative and expansive. It is informed by our members, sector experts and key stakeholders alike.
We played a significant role in the Australian Aged Care Collaboration (AACC), a grouping of six main aged care sector representative bodies, in the campaign – ‘Its time to care about aged care’ – which urged the government to adopt 15 major Royal Commission recommendations in the federal budget. This resulted in a government announcement of $17.7 billion in funding for the aged care sector and a five-year plan for the once-in-a-generation reform.
There are also more regular tasks that LASA undertakes on behalf of its members and these include practical support and education often through webinars and forums to help them work through the complex funding and compliance arrangements.
LASA also provides a number of exciting programs designed to foster and promote innovation in aged care (innovAGEING), support and develop emerging leaders (the LASA Mentoring and Next Gen programs), and promote and celebrate excellence (the LASA Excellence in Age Services Awards).
We also seek to energise our members by staging events that celebrate aged care.
This year we will be asking employers and the public to thank aged care staff for a job well done on Aged Care Employee Day on Saturday, August 7th.
This Christmas, we will be asking older Australians who receive aged care services and staff who provide care to take part in the Big Christmas Sing-a-long, following on from the huge success of our inaugural event in 2020.
What has been your biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?
There have been a number of challenges since I began with LASA in 2016. First and foremost was creating a unified organisation able to represent age services providers to the government and to the public. This has involved unifying five existing state-based organisations into a single, national, member-focused organisation. From there, we built our memberships and a suite of services and supports; which helps our members navigate a complex system of funding arrangements and regulatory requirements.
A key element of leading an industry peak body is consistent and clear communication. This is particularly the case when navigating complex issues such as the Royal Commission, and managing the intense public scrutiny that followed. There have been many allegations concerning individual aged care providers, and this threatens to tarnish the reputation of the majority.
Holding the government to task over funding cuts to aged care while managing the expectations of our members has also been a challenge. We’ve had to represent the sector and support our members throughout a challenging set of issues over a number of years while demonstrating how our sector can be part of the solution, not the problem.
Perhaps the greatest challenge has been supporting our members during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the terrible toll the virus has taken in aged care. We have worked tirelessly to support providers to keep those in their care safe. Whilst also advocating governments to ensure that we are doing all we can to realise this outcome.
What do you think a person needs to become a respected leader, and how would you describe your leadership style?
The ideal attributes for a leader are self-belief, humility, focus, perseverance and resilience. The skills needed include communication and engagement (internal and external), an ability to listen, performance management (with a focus on results, relationships, resources, and reputation), an ability to understand and interpret the operating context (short and long term), and being attuned to competitors and collaborators.
Personally, I believe that I am engaging, collegiate, inclusive, decisive (when needed), focused, practical, influential and I bring an element of creative vision.
What keeps you up at night?
The short-term sector issues. The financial pressures on members and workforce shortages, which, in turn, impacts the ability of members to consistently meet the needs of older Australians.
Another is realising the Royal Commission’s intent for once-in-a-generation reform, and understanding that failure is not an option. In the last two decades, we’ve had 20 reviews and inquiries, all calling for aged care reform. None of them delivered satisfactory outcomes.
If we were sitting here a year from now celebrating a great 12 months, what would we be talking about?
I would be talking about how far we have come in translating the Royal Commission recommendations into action. This would improve access to quality care for older Australians; improved pay and access to training for aged care staff, and a more transparent and viable financial position for providers and clarity in audit and regulatory processes.
Above all, I feel we need a clear vision to complete the transformation of aged care into a world-class sector, one that values frail and vulnerable Australians and recognises the contribution of the workforce.
Sean Rooney is the CEO for Leading Age Services Australia
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