On 1 January 2016, through changes to the Aged Care Act 1997 (Cth) and the Complaints Principles 2015, the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner took over responsibility for all complaints concerning Commonwealth funded aged care services.  There are numerous changes but significantly there are provisions during the resolution phase for conciliation and mediation.  The provider will be responsible for their own cost in relation to any conciliation or mediation that occurs. 

Unfortunately, the system does not provide for a review of the decision by an independent body.  Previously a provider could have a decision reviewed by the Aged Care Commissioner.  This is no longer the case.  In the event that you as the provider have been directed by the Commissioner and the decision is flawed your only option under the legislation is to have the matter reviewed by the Commissioner, who made the decision in the first instance. 

Mere dissatisfaction with the decision is expressly excluded from the review process.  The decision must be in some way flawed in order to be reviewed.  The outcome of the review process will result in either the decision being confirmed or a new resolution process being commenced. 

In my experience providers have effective complaints management systems that includes a policy for dealing and managing complaints.  Generally, providers see complaints as an opportunity to improve their services and welcome comments from consumers.  Providers foster an environment where residents, consumers, their representatives and staff can raise issues as they occur with management without the need to escalate the matter to the Commissioner. 

However, there are times when relationships breakdown or communication within a provider's complaints system has failed.  In such circumstances parties often feel they have no choice but to refer the matter to the Commissioner.

What is becoming increasingly difficult for providers is the management of unreasonable conduct by a complainant.  I have dealt with numerous matters where a complainant has bullied, threatened, intimidated, harassed, verbally abused, physically assaulted to the extent of stalking staff of a facility, leaving staff to fear for their own safety.  Such conduct is totally unacceptable. 

Whilst many providers have a basic code of conduct for residents and visitors, in my opinion providers should be ensuring that a clear and reasonable complaint conduct process is followed to prevent any escalation.  I urge providers to review their visitor code of conduct to ensure that there is a clear policy and process which articulates the provider's expectations and the process of managing unacceptable behaviours.