The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety is getting underway, with the first preliminary hearing scheduled in Adelaide on Friday 18 January.
Aged care operators across Australia last year received letters inviting providers to make an early submission to the Commission.
Similar preliminary information requests were used by the Banking Royal Commissioner with powerful effect, and responses received determined the case studies to be examined during the hearings.
The Aged Care Royal Commissioners are likely to put the responses they receive to similar use.
The Terms of Reference for the Commission are broad-ranging and promise to look at quality of care, accessibility and the customer experience.
If the Banking Royal Commission is any indication, aged care providers should rightly be concerned about the reputational impact of revelations. According to Roy Morgan research, as Banking Royal Commission revelations became headlines, customer satisfaction reached a six-year low.
So, what are some of the lessons aged care providers can take from the Banking Royal Commission?
Many of the organisations that received requests from the Banking Royal Commission were unprepared or under-resourced to deal with the volume and complexity of the information requests. Even large companies were struggling to respond to those requests with sufficient detail in the given timeframes.
Other financial services companies that thought they had little to be concerned about at the beginning of the Commission’s hearings found they were required to provide substantial amounts of information as the Commission progressed.
Those who provided insufficient detail or incomplete responses, or sought extensions, received criticism.
Financial services organisations also had trouble coming to grips with the fact the requests also sought frank admissions from the organisation concerned.
Aged care providers will no doubt be faced with similar challenges when responding to such requests.
So, the clear lesson from the Banking Royal Commission is to be prepared.
How to be prepared
Some key activities to ensure aged care providers are prepared include:
Develop a communication plan
Prepare a communication response plan, with your communication and legal team. It should cover:
- issues, topics and incidents likely to be explored during the hearings
- key messages that outline the organisation’s response to the Commission including any operational response
- responses to information that has fallen within the Commission’s request — typical draft responses may include an apology (if necessary), actions undertaken to improve care, future responses, and the organisation’s vision for the future.
It is important communication materials are developed for residents, families and staff for use should the organisation be called before the Royal Commission.
Establish a response team
Set up a communication response team within your organisation. This team will need to be tasked with the coordination of your response to your stakeholders, the media and your staff, in the event your organisation’s submission or evidence before the Commission gains public attention.
The team must be appropriately resourced — ideally with personnel with previous experience in the Banking or Child Sexual Abuse Royal Commissions — and have clear decision-making and reporting lines.
It is important your legal team is part of the response team.
Prepare for court and media
Live television and social media feeds of the Royal Commission proceedings are features of the modern era — courtroom evidence has now become much more a media performance than previously. This means media and court room preparation for a potential appearance at the Royal Commission must be undertaken together.
It is also important to determine who will represent the organisation in the media during the Royal Commission. This should be an individual who understands the business thoroughly and is well prepared to answer questions honestly and with empathy.
Communication with other stakeholders should also not be overlooked. Key spokesperson coaching is critical to ensure your spokespeople communicate authentically and effectively to all stakeholders (staff, customers, clients etc.) during this difficult period.
It is fair to say a number of employees will view the Commission’s proceedings with a level of apprehension and concern. These feelings may come from the fact that particular employees might be summonsed, while others may feel the Commission is a ‘slap in the face’. There have been anecdotal stories of aged care staff being verbally abused while wearing their uniforms as a result of recent negative publicity surrounding the sector.
Throughout the Royal Commission, organisations must continue to communicate to staff the value they deliver and the contribution they make, and that the Commission is an important step to restore the community’s trust in the sector and its people.
Communicate with customers
During the Royal Commission, maintaining open and transparent communication with customers will be critical. They will want to understand if your organisation will be involved in the Commission and any response it has to revelations provided in evidence at the hearings. To understand the importance of communication with current and future clients and their families, you only have to look at data presented at the 2018 Leading Age Services Australia’s National Congress which reports only 18 per cent of people trust the aged care sector and only 30 per cent believe it provides high-quality care.
The Royal Commission also provides an opportunity for organisations to get on the front foot with their customer engagement, to understand what they are feeling and their experiences with the organisation. This may be done via direct conversations or formal market research.
While being involved in a Royal Commission is guaranteed to be a stressful time for aged care providers, with adequate preparation the next few months can be an opportunity to engage with stakeholders, demonstrate responsiveness, and reinforce your corporate and brand values.