Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) is a new national peak organisation for all providers of care, services and accommodation for older Australians.
The association represents all industry participants and maintains an essential principle of inclusion at its core. It is a group of equals committed to a brighter future for the age services industry, and the older Australians who depend on it. “A fundamental passion is the best way we’re going to achieve long-term benefits for the clients we serve, which is older people,” says CEO Gerard Mansour.
“To have to have a robust and viable industry is the only way to achieve that – by having an industry association that speaks on behalf of all the aged care industry to provide a unified voice to the government,” he says.
To create that unified voice, LASA was formed in March 2012. Founding members included the Boards of the Aged Care Association of Australia (ACAA), Aged and Community Care Victoria (ACCV) and Aged Care Queensland (ACQ).
After their formation, LASA underwent an initial transition period with a temporary 90-day board. They’ve since finished setting up the association, and are actively working day-to-day. “We’ve completed that transition phase, moving to a new office in Canberra. I’m undertaking the recruitment of a small team of experts that will be working with me here in the office,” he says. “I’ll build a small team and then we’ll grow over time.”
Before taking on his current role at LASA, Mansour worked in Victoria for six years, having created the inaaugral single industry body of ACCV. When the opportunity arose to lead a national organisation, he answered the call of duty and moved to Canberra. “In a six-year period, I had the chance to live and breathe what it would be like to be an industry body representing all service providers in Victoria,” he says. “I found that inspiring.”
In LASA’s relatively short time as an association, they’ve engaged in several policy issues. For example, they’re very strong advocates of the Aged Care Reform agenda; Mansour notes how they’ve balanced the sequence of the reform agenda with regards to critical short-term issues. “We think that the government’s approach to redirecting the funds from residential aged care to other areas of the reform now has to be redone,” Mansour says. “We’re going to go through, in the next 10 to 15 years, a doubling of our industry. That will bring with it an enormous amount of pressures during that journey.”
“So this is really right now the beginning of a long-term reform agenda,” he adds. “We’re just at the beginning of our decade of change and we’re perfectly positioned to represent mandates through that journey.”
LASA and its current relationship with the federal government are off to a good start. They’ve met regularly with the office of the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, and have had an open and direct dialogue with them. “We’ve made it clear that we want to work with the government through the period of reform,” Mansour says. “Our core business is to represent the interests of our members and to comment publicly. Our core business is to work with government, but at the same time it’s to make sure the views of our members are represented appropriately.”
It is not just the federal government that has a stake in industry reform. Everybody has a vested interest to make sure that the right range of services is available in every community, Mansour says. “Local government is going to be highly interested – are there enough accommodations and care options in each local community?” he says. “In the end, everybody wants and needs a flourishing industry. It’s an enormously challenging role with so many stakeholders that want and need an interest in policy decisions.”
A major part of LASA’s functionality is advocacy, but equally as important is supporting their members directly, which they do in a number of ways. They provide a lot of advice and guidance at the state level. To providers, LASA is an enormous driver of information when it comes to what is happening across the industry. “It’s such a changing place, so we’re a very important provider of information to our members,” Mansour says. “We are key players in education and training – playing a lead role in provisions of education and training services for our members.”
When it comes to industry challenges, there are three top concerns for LASA. The first one is balancing government funding and consumer contributions – a shift in their reform package they full support, Mansour says. “The principle is that as we age, the people that can afford to make a greater contribution ought to do so,” he says. “Over the next decade I’m sure that issue is going to dominate government thinking and the entire community.”
The issue of regulation and compliance industry-wide is the second challenge. LASA are strong advocates for a good, robust system that protects consumers, but what this has led to is additional and unnecessary compliance, burden and red tape, Mansour says. “We’ve got to get that balance better; we’ve got to have a system that the community has confidence in,” he says. “But we’ve got to continue to put the shoulder to the wheel, to reduce the compliant burden on the industry so that time can get reinvested in care for older people.”
The third challenge for LASA – one that will become dominant in three or four year, Mansour predicts – is their workforce. Looking back 20 years, there were seven workers for every person in retirement. Today, for every person in retirement, there are five workers, Mansour explains. “By 2050, that’s going to be about 3.7,” he says. “At a time when there is an aging population, there is a declining proportionate workforce. This is going to be a huge challenge.”
As for where LASA and the aged care industry will be in 10 years, Mansour’s hope will is that the industry will succeed at making services available for all older people. They want to achieve a system where older people can access services when and where they need it. “We will have fundamentally have shifted the balance between government and consumer contributions, so that the industry is viable and flourishing,” Mansour says.
Mansour believes there will be much more of a continuum model – where people make connections with providers much sooner than they do today. “You’d almost have the service model designed around an individual family, rather than a family fitting into our service model designed by government policies,” he says.
Technology will also re-shape the industry in ways no one can imagine, he says. “The ability to just communicate through things like iPads has the ability to keep people in their own homes. Technology is going an aged care home much more vibrant.”