Accreditation of residential aged care facilities: experiences of service providers
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The need to address the issue of quality in aged care service provision in Australia has received increasing emphasis in recent decades. Particularly since the 1980s, the federal government has played a key role in ensuring that this is the case through the implementation of various reforms and regulatory strategies. In 1998, the national standards monitoring system which had been in place since the mid 1980s was replaced with a new system based on an accreditation model. In contrast to the former system which was wholly controlled by government and involved one-off inspections by government standards monitors, responsibility for managing the new system has been devolved to an independent body, the Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency. One of the Agency's primary functions is to assess compliance with the accreditation standards. A key component of the new system is its emphasis on continuous improvement which has been incorporated into the accreditation standards. As a consequence, the new system requires a much greater level of involvement and commitment by providers than previously. In order to continue receiving government funding all facilities had to be accredited by January 1st 2001. This study represents an evaluation of the accreditation system based on the views and experiences of service providers in Western Australia. It explored a number of issues relating to the basic philosophy and principles underlying the new system, the implementation process, the accreditation standards that are used as a basis for assessing service quality and the overall impact of the system on providers. It also sought providers' views about the strengths and limitations of the system and any areas in need of change or improvement. A descriptive design, using in-depth interviews as the method of data collection, was adopted for the study.Participants from three levels of service provision, namely, facilities, organisations and peak bodies were selected on a stratified purposive basis. A total of 45 informants were interviewed. The findings indicated that, overall, as a regulatory approach the accreditation system was generally supported by providers and was regarded as having a number of positive features, particularly in comparison to the previous system. At the same time a number of concerns were identified. These related in particular to the assessment process, specifically the lack of consistency amongst assessors and the self assessment tool, and to the extent of information and guidance provided by the Agency. Concerns regarding the latter's role in relation to, and extent of independence from, the federal government were also identified. The study also found that the introduction of the system had impacted on providers in a variety of ways, both positive and negative, but particularly in terms of the demands on staff and financial resources. A number of 'broader' level factors, such as funding, nursing shortages and other often competing demands (e.g. assessing residents according to the Resident Classification Scale) were also felt to be impacting on providers' capacity to meet the requirements of the system. These concerns, along with concerns about the way in which the system would develop in the future, appear to have created a degree of uncertainty and in some cases apprehension amongst many providers. Although this study has focused on the experiences of Western Australian service providers, evidence from other reviews of the accreditation system where providers' views have been sought has indicated a widespread similarity in perceptions. This suggests, therefore, that there is a need for further review and refinement of certain aspects of the system as it moves into the second round.
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