Three key questions to ask before the aged care royal commission

Staff Writer 18 Oct 2018
2 mins
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Royal commissions have long been agents for change and reform in this country: from the inquiry into conditions on the SS Dayton Grange way back in 1902 to the ongoing investigation into the banking, superannuation and financial services industries.

In the months ahead, it will be the aged care sector’s turn in the spotlight and many operators will understandably be wrestling with how to respond. How best to communicate at a time of adversity will likely be high among their thoughts.

Preparation is the heavy-lifting component of any communications strategy.

If you expect your organisation to feature in some way in the royal commission‘s inquiries, that preparation should already have started.

If you don’t expect to feature? You should also be preparing, because playing catch-up if you end up in the spotlight is fraught with trouble. Even if that doesn’t happen, your stakeholders need to be assured that your house is in order.

Here are three key questions any aged care provider should be asking themselves ahead of the royal commission:

  1. Who are my stakeholders?

The list is probably longer than you might think and will include your residents, their families, your staff, the media, your investors and regulators. They need to hear your story from you – preferably before anyone else tells it.

  1. What are my risks?

What complaints have you received that might fall within the terms of reference? What have you done about past failures and what are you doing to avoid failures in the future? Can you demonstrate – reasonably and compassionately – that your staffing levels and procedures have been appropriate?

Identify your risks now and how you might communicate around them.

  1. What about the media?

Royal commissions are gruelling, stressful affairs that will involve a media “scrum” camped outside the hearings and potentially camera crews turning up on your doorstep. Even when the commission ends, media questions may keep coming.

Are your staff prepared to cope and communicate effectively in those circumstances? Right now the answer might be “no” but with dedicated media training they can be.

In many ways, the aged care royal commission may be a positive.

As the Prime Minister noted when he announced it, there are no excuses for abuse, neglect and failures affecting some of the most vulnerable people in our communities and those responsible need to be held to account. There is a genuine need for reform – of regulatory and operational systems as well as a cultural change in our attitude as a nation to caring for our older citizens and those with disabilities.

But the process leading to that reform will be tough for all involved.

Being prepared before you are in the spotlight is crucial. The heavy lifting should start now.

Carina Tan-Van Baren is a health and aged care specialist at Purple, who has more than 25 years’ experience in issues and reputation management, stakeholder engagement, the property sector and strategy development. Contact Carina.

 Purple has significant royal commission experience, including the commissions into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, the Australian Wheat Board and HIH Insurance. We are industry leaders in media training and were also recognised for Crisis Communications at the 2017 Asia-Pacific Excellence Awards for work supporting Australian company Macmahon during a hostage situation in Nigeria. 

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