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Original Research

Challenges to the provision of community aged care services across rural Australia: perceptions of service managers

Submitted: 17 June 2016
Revised: 9 January 2017
Accepted: 25 January 2017
Published: 31 May 2017

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Author(s) : Savy P, Warburton J, Hodgkin S.

Jeni WarburtonSuzanne Hodgkin

Citation: Savy P, Warburton J, Hodgkin S.  Challenges to the provision of community aged care services across rural Australia: perceptions of service managers. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2017; 17: 4059. Available: http://www.rrh.org.au/articles/subviewnew.asp?ArticleID=4059 (Accessed 29 June 2017)

ABSTRACT

Introduction:  The Australian community aged care sector is facing a growing workforce crisis, particularly in rural and regional areas. Its predominantly female workforce is ageing, and recruiting younger, skilled workers is proving difficult. The service sector, too, is proving highly complex and diverse as a result of contemporary aged care service reforms as well as ongoing difficulties in providing services to the growing numbers of older people living in Australia’s rural areas. Despite these multiple challenges, there is a gap in research that explores how rural aged care services manage their day-to-day requirements for skilled workers across the diverse service sector. To address this gap, this article reports on the experiences and perceptions of a small sample of service managers whose organisations represent this diversity, and who are accountable for care provision in regional and rural locations. In such areas, recruitment and skill needs are contoured by disproportionate aged populations, distance and reduced service availability.
Methods:  Eleven service managers were interviewed as part of a larger project that examined the skill and training needs of community aged care workers within the Riverina, a rural region in New South Wales. Qualitative data drawn from semi-structured interviews were thematically analysed to identify the managers’ individual needs for workers and skills in the context of location, service parameters and availability of other health and community services.
Results:  Thematic analysis of the interview data elicited three themes: services, roles and skill deployment; older workers and gendered roles; and barriers to recruitment. The findings illustrate the complexities that characterise the community aged care sector as a whole and the impact of these on individual services located in regional and rural parts of Australia. The participants reported diverse needs for worker skills in keeping with the particular level of service they provide. Significantly, their varying perceptions and practices reflect their preference for older, female workers; their reluctance to take on younger workers is negatively skewed by a lack of capacity to compete for, recruit and retain such workers and to offer incentives in the form of enhanced roles and career development.
Conclusions:  The findings highlight the conceptual ambiguities inherent in definitions of community aged care work as broadly skilled and uniformly sought across the sector. On the one hand, demands for more and better trained workers to meet growing client complexity locate care work as skilled. On the other, managers of narrowly defined service activities may rely on a diminishing workforce whose skills they downplay in gendered and lay terms. This contradiction corresponds with long-held conclusions about the gendered, exploitative reputation of care work, a characterisation discursively constructed by privileging the moral dimensions of the job over the technical skills required for it. Significantly, the findings raise questions about the capacity of services, as they are currently structured and differentiated, to reshape and redefine aged care work as a ‘good job’, one that holds appeal and tangible rewards for new and younger skilled workers.

Key words: Australia, community aged care, gendered work, regional and rural location, service managers, workers’ skills, workforce shortfall.

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