Home' Australian Ageing Agenda : AAA Mar-Apl 2015 Contents facilities to 69, following its acquisition of Stockland's aged care
assets in July 2014 and later the 551-bed operator Aquarius
Aged Care in January.
In addition to acquiring existing facilities, Opal secured the
largest share of new residential places, some 966 bed licences, in last
year's Aged Care Approvals Round and says it will be investing $250
million across 11 residential facilities, creating over 1,000 jobs in the
aged care sector and as many jobs in the construction industry.
Drawing on his finance background - he was chief finance
officer at Domain before he took the top job in May 2011, and
was previously CFO at DCA Group and an adjunct lecturer in the
economics department at Macquarie University -- Barnier outlines
the business model underpinning Opal's expansion.
"The type of acquisitions we look for are those that
make sense given our capital base," he says, referring to the
company's "long-term, committed private investors." This
gives Opal the ability to acquire organisations in which capital
investment is required to bring them to a level expected by the
community, he says.
"We're pretty excited by that opportunity because we think
there's quite a bit of residential aged care stock out there that
could benefit from us doing that."
Asked about the challenges related to such large-scale
organisational growth, Barnier refers to the "franchise platform"
that Opal has developed, which he describes as a set of systems
and quality standards covering areas such as people, customer
service and quality. The 6,000-bed provider has also invested
heavily in its management structure, which is very scalable, he
says: "We have some pretty smart and committed people who are
able to grow alongside the organisation."
A 'SPECIALIST' AGED CARE PROVIDER
When Opal unveiled its new look and name last June, the
company also announced a major partnership with Alzheimer's
Australia NSW that, significantly, aimed to equip the company to
become a residential aged care provider specialising in dementia
and palliative care.
This move to differentiate itself from fellow providers
was symptomatic of a broader trend within the industry as it
increasingly becomes market-based. That such a large company
was effectively "going niche" was noteworthy, however.
Discussing this market positioning, Barnier says that Opal
was driven by research such as the Productivity Commission's
2011 inquiry report, which showed that, increasingly,
residents would enter residential aged care later in life, in
a frailer condition.
"We decided to get ourselves ready for the high end, frailer
resident coming in very late because that's who we thought we
would see in any case; the higher acuity person."
Further research confirmed a large portion of residents
had some level of cognitive loss, which was echoed by official
statistics that 1,700 Australians a week get a diagnosis of
dementia, Barnier says.
At the same time, there was "a big conversation" within
the Federal Government, and the broader community, about
palliative care and hospice services, "and we saw that as an
opportunity," he says.
All of these factors ultimately shaped the company's new
direction: a specialist organisation concentrating on dementia
and hospice services, Barnier says.
A key element has been the partnership with Alzheimer's
Australia NSW, which Barnier goes to lengths to praise.
"Inside our business, it became apparent that while we
delivered care to residents with dementia, we didn't really
understand the journey these residents had been on; we didn't
understand the emotions, the family dynamics."
Through the partnership, Alzheimer's Australia NSW has
provided education in the "foundations of dementia" to all
of Opal's 6,000 staff, which Barnier says has had a "profound
effect" on the organisation. "The awareness of the resident with
dementia is just so much higher," he says.
Alzheimer's Australia NSW also conducted an audit of Opal's
facilities, which identified areas requiring improvement, such as
how residents were engaged at meal times, and with regards to
the physical environment.
"We've addressed those issues both through that education
but also more formally through our customer service standards,"
Beyond the training program with Alzheimer's Australia NSW,
Barnier says Opal has developed a multi-pronged workforce
strategy, as he sees workforce as a crucial issue.
"The first thing we're trying to do is stop people from leaving
our business," he says. The company has reduced its level of staff
turnover to 17.7 per cent, with still some work to do before it
achieves its internal benchmark of 15 per cent, he says.
"The way we've got it down is by listening to our staff," he
says, pointing to staff feedback and discussion forums held
monthly in all Opal facilities.
Barnier also highlights the company's emerging leaders
program, in which senior management works on talent
identification, and selected staff are intensively mentored so they
can assume leadership roles.
Taking us full circle, Barnier also says that Opal is working
hard to improve the public image of aged care, as an overarching
element of its workforce strategy: "The best way we can attract
workforce is to have people in retail or in the mining sector,
the automotive sector or heavy industrials come and work in
residential aged care. They'll do it if they can see organisations
and people that they want to work for. We're trying to get our
image to a place where people want to come and work for us.
It's starting to happen; it's slow, it's early but it's starting." n
Gary Barnier on
THE WORKFORCE COMPACT
The single biggest challenge for growth and for delivery in this
sector is getting a high quality workforce. I sat on the strategic
workforce advisory group; our business was only one of two
[providers] that was committed to the Workforce Compact. It
might have been an imperfect answer but it was something
of an answer to supporting our workers. We keep looking for
other ways to do that, because we need to get a high quality
workforce into this sector.
AGED CARE REFORMS
The reforms have been an outstanding success. I was a
real supporter of the reforms and am pleased to see them
be implemented. It's a great to see the bipartisanship. It's
important that the sector works with government to further
deregulate the sector so that the consumers who can afford to
pay do contribute to their care, because bringing those market
forces in will support innovation and quality improvement. I
look forward to working with government on the nature and
pace of those reforms.
PAYROLL TAX SUPPLEMENT
The payroll tax matter, that creation of an un-level playing
field, should be addressed. We've raised our concerns
with both levels of government... We all support federal,
state and local government, but we can't have levels of
government be used as the reason why things don't get
addressed. I'm not strong enough to address the issue
between the levels of government, nor are other aged care
providers... For our organisation, as of January it will mean
a substantial increase in the costs of labour and we will need
to manage that. As an organisation, we remain committed
to our levels of customer service, but it means we have a
smaller surplus to be able to reinvest.
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