The crisis management issues engulfing aged care facilities in Victoria, and threatening those in New South Wales and Queensland highlights several persistent problems within the nonprofit sector.
These include insufficient funding at the best of times, but completely woeful and inadequate during a cash consuming crisis, A reliance upon casual employees or those on limited hour contracts, who in an effort to pay their bills, shop themselves out to multiple employers in any given week. Poor planning for emergencies through ill prepared business continuity planning, limited operational planning and a reliance upon accreditation standards as indicator of readiness.
These factors are not confined to the aged care sector, they exist within our public health sector, community health organisations, social service providers and community houses.
Consider the potential for an outbreak in the disability sector. This is a sector that through the NDIS employs mainly contract workers to provide care for people as per their care plans, with many of those people living in residential care. Not dissimilar to the aged care system. As with the aged care system, those disability workers are moving between providers, between residential houses, between the houses of those they care for and between their own family members. What could possibly go wrong?
Recently while walking along our waterfront I witnessed a person with a disability and his carer. Neither the carer or the person being cared for were wearing a mask or gloves. On one occasion the person being cared for recognised a passerby as a previous carer, ran over, wrapped himself around this person and gave a great hug. A complete lack of social distancing by someone likely to have limited understanding of the need for doing so! Then as they moved on, the person being cared for went in for an affectionate hug with his carer.
Now I know this same scenario is repeated many times daily by people not within the disability sector. My concern is with the obligations and responsibilities of our institutions. What would the legal obligation be upon a disability provider, healthcare provider, aged care provider or any other social services agency if contact tracing were to isolate community transmission to either one of their staff or one of the people in their care? I would bet few have had that discussion at board level or incorporated this into their emergency plans or operational plans.
The reality is that crisis management is often something organisations focus upon after a crisis has emerged. Business continuity planning in the current environment has become a moving target. Reliance upon emergency or pandemic plans prepared prior to March 2020 may prove fatal. Management teams should be reviewing their business continuity plans and operational plans.
The most immediate question to be addressed by management teams is what is our procedure at the point in time we first become aware of a positive test amongst employees, volunteers and people in our care?
Having answered that question, it then moves to preparedness and readiness. What plans do you have in place to train your staff, to practice these procedures and to keep stakeholders informed?
Policy without procedure is ineffective. Procedure without practice is negligence.
In the event of a major incident within a government funded provider it is critical that the management group is able to show that they actually had in place policies and procedures, and had provided staff and volunteers with resources and training. If they are found to have not done all that they could practically achieve then their liability increases.
I’m John Coxon, since 2002 I have advised boards and management teams within nonprofit organisations on strategic, management and operational issues using an evidence based approach. If you are looking for help with a review of your policies and procedures or emergency plans contact John.