The Government announced a Royal Commission into the Aged Care sector on 16 September 2018. The first tranche of letters to the sector’s largest 100 Providers have now been sent. This correspondence seeks responses to a series of questions relating to internal quality and safety practices, with responses due by 7 January 2019. The remaining providers are expected to receive similar correspondence with a response date set for February 2019.
What will the Commission investigate?
The ‘Terms of Reference’ set out the key matters to be investigated and can be found on page 2 of the Letters Patent here.
The key areas to be investigated include the following:
- the quality of aged care services provided to Australians;
- how best to deliver aged care services to:
i. people with disabilities; and
ii. Australians living with dementia;
- the future challenges and opportunities for delivering accessible, affordable and high quality aged care services in Australia, including:
i. in the context of changing demographics and preferences, in particular people’s desire to remain living at home as they age; and
ii. in remote, rural and regional Australia;
- what the Australian Government, aged care industry, Australian families and the wider community can do to strengthen the system of aged care services to ensure that the services provided are of high quality and safe;
- how to ensure that aged care services are person centred;
- how best to deliver aged care services in a sustainable way;
- any matter reasonably incidental to a matter referred to in paragraphs (a) to (f) or that the Commissioners believe is reasonably relevant to the inquiry.
Powers of the Commission
The Commission has wide powers under the Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Act), including the power to summon witnesses and take evidence, order the production of documents and obtain search warrants.
Under the Act it is an offence to provide false or misleading evidence to the Commission, destroy relevant documents or refuse to provide documents or information. Offences can attract serious consequences and adverse publicity.
Impact upon your organisation?
The Royal Commission has the potential to invoke significant reform, particularly in relation to public policy. It will affect every aged care organisation and is anticipated to prompt substantial and costly changes to the industry.
Employees in the sector will be scrutinised, which could in turn affect human resources. All employees ought to be supported, educated and well prepared.
The Commission is obliged to report any suspected or alleged crimes to relevant law enforcement authorities and/or provide information to relevant bodies for ongoing investigations.
As can be seen from the recent correspondence the investigation will move fast, imposing tight deadlines for a response.
Organisations must take measures to be prepared to produce documents, answer questions and provide evidence- quickly.
How to prepare — How to avoid becoming a headline!
Organisations will need to prepare differently depending on its unique circumstances. Obtaining specialist and customised legal advice is therefore advisable.
However, generally, your organisation could consider the following general points:
- Get organised- Establish a team
Being organised from the very onset of the investigation will ensure that the process is smoother and easier for all involved.
Establish a team of employees who can easily locate documents, answer questions and are key contact personnel for external bodies. A team leader and/or contact person should be appointed.
- Start gathering your documents NOW
By implementing a document management system which accords with the Commission’s document management protocol, you are more likely to be able to respond to requests for information in a timely manner.
All organisations- even those who have not yet received a request for documents should start gathering their information now.
IT staff may be required to locate historical information and/or data.
- Review existing policies and practices- Ensure information is communicated upwards
It is recommended that all policies, procedures and practices are reviewed; specifically, the areas identified in the ‘Terms of Reference’.
Organisations are advised to identify areas of weakness and strengths. Areas of weakness should be targeted immediately with changes implemented and documented.
Don’t forget the Board! The Board MUST be advised immediately of any areas of weakness or concerns.
- Educate and support employees
Employee performance is a focal point in the investigation. Employees must therefore be property prepared, informed and supported.
Any individual who is required to provide a response or give evidence should obtain legal advice from a specialist in the industry to help them prepare.
No employee should be providing evidence under oath without having first sought legal advice.
- Engage Media / Public Relations Experts
The investigation is generally closely followed by the media and as such, a media and/or public relations specialist may be helpful to assist with media enquiries and publications.
- Engage a legal team for assistance
The recent correspondence has already thrown up some uncertainty as to precisely what information is required to be produced.
An organisation that fails to produce all relevant material may be faced with penalties. However, disclosure of certain documents may be refused on the basis of legal professional privilege, commercial sensitivity or may be requested to remain confidential.
Documents should not be refused without first obtaining specialist legal advice as to the legitimacy of refusal.
A specialist legal team can provide advice as to how best to respond to a request for information and prepare any individual requested to provide evidence.
At Lynch Meyer we frequently assist leading providers in the aged care industry and have formed close relationships with many providers.
Additionally, the firsthand knowledge that Sonia Bolzon has gathered through her involvement at Board level of an aged care organisation has given her considerable insight into governance responsibilities in the aged care sector.
To find out how we can help you with preparing for the Royal Commission or assisting you throughout the investigation, please contact Sonia Bolzon at Lynch Meyer on 8236 7688.