Staffing levels – is skill-mix the formula for success?

This month we look at the discussion around whether mandated staffing levels in aged care, as a ratio of care hours to residents, would improve care services?

Rather than numbers of personnel alone, to provide safe and appropriate nursing services, staffing skill-mix (taking into consideration the workforce diversity) is essential to ensuring appropriate effective staffing. These factors are not taken into account or provided for within the industry funding levels which puts additional pressure on those working in aged care services.

While performing statutory (temporary) management roles over past years, adequate numbers of staffing alone hasn’t guaranteed safe and appropriate care. Nursing outcomes for residents have been reliant on a mix of highly skilled staff working in conjunction with newer or less experienced staff to guide and mentor.  There could be 10 staff on duty but if none of them have had previous experience working in aged care services, these staff are set-up to fail in performance of their duties, and the resident care outcomes are likely at risk.

SNZ HB 8163:2005 – ‘Indicators for safe aged-care and dementia-care for consumers‘ is a national document which includes formulas for staffing levels based on acuity of residents. This document set industry guidelines and although not mandated, defines staffing from a best practice perspective. Numbers alone as already mentioned are not sufficient.

Outdated for the acuity of residents needs in 2019 and onward, the 2005 guidelines didn’t take into account a range of factors. For example the size and physical layout of the facility, location of resources, the leadership structure and how work teams are configured, economy of scale and appropriate cover.  The minimum staffing requirements in the ARRC   is well below that sufficient to meet resident needs.  Having been implemented in 2005 (SNZ HB 8163:2005) when resident needs were less complex than they are now, it’s well past time to review how staffing skill-mix is determined and more importantly how the industry will be funded for increased staffing to meet the increased needs of residents.

HCSL developed a 5 step acuity assessment tool in response to providers requests after being frustrated by using the two tier InterRai assessment which give outcomes of resthome or hospital level of care. InterRai doesn’t reflect the range of acuity represented in SNZ HB 8163:2005 from a care level perspective.  As reported by numerous registered nurses working in aged care, the complex clinical presentation of residents being admitted into care is not accurately reflected in InterRai which is why they still need to supplement InterRai at times with more detailed clinical assessments.

Achieving desired outcomes for residents and the timeliness of appropriate care support based on individual assessed needs should be the aim for the allocation funding to ensure adequate staffing levels.

Workplace Culture

Workplace culture is a term bandied around a lot but what does it actually mean and how can it be measured?  When I ask staff at facilities during training sessions what they see their point of difference is, they frequently reply saying ‘we’re friendly’, or ‘we care’ or ‘we provide a homely environment’.  While these are all nice to have, they would actually be expected as a basic standard.  They are not specific and not anything different to the care facility down the road.

Mary Barra, Chairwoman and CEO of General Motors (GM) states that at GM, they prefer to talk about behaviours rather than culture as behaviours can be changed very quickly and are apparent straight away. She talks about the need for rapid change with the inclusion of technology and advancements in artificial intelligence being used more frequently.  While those are starting to be present in some aged residential care settings, what is true of both GM and aged care is rapid change and the need to adapt quickly.  This isn’t going to happen by accident and needs clear direction, guidance, leadership and engagement of all those involved.

Mary Barra also refers to bringing products to market that bring people freedom, rather than talking about cars or transportation. She focuses on the outcome for their clients.   What is the key outcome you’re wanting to provide for those in your environment and how is that defined in your values?  How is it implemented by your staff and how do you measure success on those outcomes?

managers oath as I’ve mentioned before is a good place to start in defining the governance or leadership direction of organisations. Values and key performance indicators (KPIs) or quality objectives / measures need to align to this.To ensure consistent progress regular review of those KPIs or quality measures needs to occur and acted on according to the outcomes.  Policies and procedures to guide consistent best practice are an important part of ensuring clear direction for staff while setting parameters for performance.  Information reduces confusion and promotes change. Practice creates confidence not only in the staff but also in the resident and those observing their care.