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The bottom feeders

There are a number of species in the animal world that survive on the leftovers of others. As animals higher up the food chain satisfy their need for food they lose interest in the carcass as it gets a distinctive odour and appearance. In a marine environment, sooner or later the carcass arrives at the bottom of the sea to be preyed on by the opportunistic that wait for their food to come to them. They are the bottom feeders of the animal world.

Humans have bottom feeders as well. You could argue that scammers, internet trolls and others that go out of their way to financially or mentally hurt others are opportunistic predators, as are those that assault others either physically or mentally. It wouldn’t be hard to suggest that those businesses with practices that are just on the right side of the law are also opportunistic and clearly out to exploit the intent of the law to make a living.

Sadly for us, it is difficult to spot the opportunistic business unless some measures are in place to assist us. A bank will provide a loan at a particular interest rate to clients it considers to be a reasonable credit risk. If the bank won’t lend the money, some will approach other lenders that accept higher risk clients but there are more onerous conditions such as higher interest rates or in extreme examples ‘the Boyz will be sent around’ to manage defaults. You could argue that proposals that involve significantly higher fees or interest rates are a warning that you are dealing with a bottom feeder. It is less clear in other industries.

Legally a Pharmacist or group of pharmacists must own and operate a pharmacy. Which is probably just as well as there needs to be some control on drug company representatives claiming the red pill to soothe your patients ills is useless and you need to sell twice as many of the representatives’ blue pills (with the same formulation) to achieve any good. In a similar way it is illegal to call yourself a doctor, lawyer, dentist or a whole range or other professions unless you hold the appropriate qualifications and registration. These professions are frequently accused of charging high prices and being ‘closed shops’ – and to an extent they are. Their justification is they put a lot of time and effort into gaining qualifications and certifications and deserve to be rewarded for that expense. While the justification doesn’t necessarily hold up to scrutiny. most of us would prefer someone who had a good idea of what they were doing to supply your medicine, perform the operation or represent you in court.

So why do we allow our most vulnerable to be cared for by staff that are paid the least? Aged care workers received a mandated increase of 15% this year, but they are still some of the lowest paid workers in the country. Child care workers are also some of the lowest paid workers in the country and both industries receive considerable government funding. As we found out in the pandemic, neither group could perform their jobs ‘at home’, unlike a lot of doctors, lawyers and so on. While child care workers haven’t received any out of the ordinary pay rise this year, one of the large employers in the sector – Goodstart – was calling for a 10% pay rise (funded by the government) last October to stop workers leaving the industry. Yet the daily costs of aged care and child care are subject of frequent complaint..

While aged care and child care are regulated to some degree and there is some government support, there is also no requirement for the owner of an aged care or child care business to actually have any relevant qualifications or experience in the sector. You and I could, should we choose to, purchase an aged care or child care business and employ a management company that holds the appropriate accreditations to run it on our behalf.

Should you be an investor without the appropriate skills and qualifications (or have employees with the skills) to run an aged care or child care business, the real question here is why would we as a country let you do it? If we expect lawyers, doctors and pharmacists to have hands on experience in their profession, why do we let our most vulnerable be looked after in facilities run by investors that don’t have any understanding of how these places should be managed. It’s not likely that the ultimate consumer will necessarily be able to voice their concerns, should they have any.

Management companies ‘ensure compliance’, but the management company is only going to do what is necessary, after all an investor that has no background won’t be interested in the ‘learning experience’ or ‘nutritious food’ over and above the required standard that costs an extra $1 a day per person to implement, because that is $1 a day off their annual profit.

Really, it smacks of opportunism. If the investor contracts out the compliance activities of the enterprise to a management company, it is not prepared to employ people with the skills and qualifications in senior roles. Employees with relevant skills and knowledge in senior roles are those than can make the case for exceeding mandatory requirements and providing a better experience for the users of the service. Demonstrably an investor who is there solely for the profits will be out of the respective industry if something more attractive comes up.

The management company’s customer is the investor, not those that rely on the provision of the service at the facility. It’s not hard to make the case the investors who rely on management companies are gaming the system that seems at present to be capable of producing significant profits, demonstrated by the new childcare and aged care centres being constructed or existing ones expanded.

Not all investors or management companies are bottom feeders and ‘just out to leverage the extra $1 a day’ but there is sufficient evidence available in the 18 reports into the aged care industry in the last two decades to suggest that some are (and the childcare industry hasn’t been subject to the same intensity of review so we really don’t know if its any better). To reduce the potential of treating our most vulnerable as just a ‘profit centre’, should the aged and child care industries be re-regulated to actively discourage involvement of those who choose to buy the services of a management company rather than directly employ the expertise.

If its good enough to expect that the person filling your prescription has a clue on what the chemicals in the medication do, shouldn’t it also be expected that the owner of a aged care or child care facility also have a clue on how their services should be operated to benefit those in their care rather than just comply with the regulations?

 

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5 comments

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  1. New England Cocky

    The demise of standards in the Australian Aged Care System dates from Little Johnnie Howard in about 1996, as do most of the social problems and inequities of the present day.

    A sound argument for change and professional upgrading by aged care centres, or better still, nationalisation of all aged care facilities so the the present financial largesse may be directed to care of the residents rather than the follies of the promoters.

  2. Paul Smith

    Government work is inefficient, they said. Private does it better – and it will always be cheaper. And what we now get is cheap indeed – at a previously unimaginable premium.

  3. Clakka

    There are far too many examples of this ‘profit centre’ institutional infrastructure. And all the examples lead to either sub-standard services and compromised facility or infrastructure only affordable by the elite. They produce a divided society and the persistence of inequity and ‘otherness’.

    Typical examples: Universities, schools, child care, aged care, hospitals, and so on and so forth.

    It is utter nonsense that such facilities need a profit motive to stimulate excellence. Excellence is a naturally occurring evolution that requires only opportunity, not excesses such as accumulated wealth. The Oz experience (via a tradition of opportunistic harshness) is that it leads to either poorer standard facility & operation, or a taxpayer burden to bolster the elite model affordable only to the few. And I note that Oz has a very poor record of philanthropy on which to fall back, and that said, there is an increasing trend in the west for philanthropy to be with ‘strings attached’ such as tax minimisation, real property acquisition and siloing, and political largesse.

    Such infrastructure should be nationalised, or very stringently regulated to bring all to a continuously reviewed best standard facility and practice. We have the talent and the resources.

    Should any user customer require luxuries or ‘blessed’ add-ons, let them account for that singularly in their own residence and their own time / cost only after their participation in and fulfilment of the nationalised system.

    It is an active tragedy watching Oz go down the path of the modern Amercian-style privatisation. Driven by greed and gormless corrupted politicians who spend a lifetime narrowing the gene-pool of opportunity.

  4. leefe

    Big thumbs up, Clakka. You said what I wanted to say.

  5. wam

    Are frankers bottom feeders???
    Bottom feeding is lucrative where there are no workers to pick up the trickle down.

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