The Home and Community Health Association’s recent conference in Wellington prompted rich discussions and debate around the issues at the heart of the home and community support services sector (HCSS). JUDE BARBACK reports.

‘Looking in, Looking Out’ was an appropriate theme for this year’s HCHA conference held at Te Papa, Wellington at the end of September. Topics ranged from policy and workforce issues to clinical topics to dementia to technology – and each session looked critically at how the sector was performing and what external factors were likely to influence progress.

The Associate Minister of Health, Peseta Sam Lotu-liga kicked things off, but missed the mark a little, seeming to lump the HCSS with residential aged care. The emphasis was on thanking providers for the work they do; while this was appreciated, it fell short of offering any meaningful solutions to the challenges the sector is facing.

Labour Party’s Ruth Dyson also addressed the conference, stating that things needed to change.

“We’re not getting it right in this sector. Commitments have not been met,” she said.

The sector’s challenges were discussed in more depth by HCHA chief executive Julie Haggie. She highlighted the main pressures as increasing demand on home care services, the level and inconsistency of funding and the contracting environment. She stressed that a number of agencies have gone under in the past year, while others have been bought up by larger providers.

The conference was punctuated with an excellent panel discussion on how the sector should prepare for regularisation and the implementation of guaranteed hours as well as the provisions from the new Employment Standards legislation. Industry veteran and expert Graeme Titcombe was joined by Healthcare NZ’s legal counsel Lynne Sijbrant, the Ministry of Health’s Karina Kwai and union representatives, Melissa Woolley from PSA and Sam Jones from E Tu.

Concerns were raised about when the Ministry will fulfil its obligations under Part B of the in-between travel time agreement to help the sector transition to a regularised workforce including guaranteed hours and training-related pay. It was agreed that the level, disparity and security of funding all need to be addressed by the Government to enable this.

Delegates also heard from interRAI’s Michele McCreadie, whose focus was: now that you’ve got the data, how can you use it? ACC’s Graham Dyer spoke of the corporation’s five year transformation to become more customer-focused, working more in collaboration with providers. Healthcare NZ’s Lynne Sijbrant talked about the importance of taking staff and client privacy seriously.

Social researchers, Dr Kathy Glasgow and Kay Saville Smith gave fascinating insights into what trends we can expect to see as our population ages.

There was also plenty of food for thought when it came to workforce development. Careerforce’s Gill Genet talked about some of the new initiatives in the workforce development space, including the introduction of MyPath, a digital tool to monitor assessments and the focus on new qualifications beyond Level 3. Pacific Homecare’s Hamish Crooks shared his organisation’s journey to improving worker’s literacy levels and confidence in their job.

The breakout sessions offered plenty of choice for delegates with talks on medication administration, pressure injuries, dementia, community rehab and disabilities vying for their attention.

The conference turn-out was smaller than in other years, but in many ways the content richer, and the discussions more in-depth and relevant. Providers came away with a deeper understanding of the issues confronting their sector and a stronger sense of unity as they prepare to tackle the challenges in front of them.

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