The Care Home Sector - Operational Pressures Create Reputational Risk

BBC Radio 4’s flagship consumer affairs programme You and Yours recently turned it’s focus on the care home sector following statistics that showed 70 people had died in care homes from choking. The programme highlighted that this figure did not include those who died later in hospital with complications from choking related incidents, and if those cases were to be included the number would rise significantly.

For care home operators the programme offers a worrying insight into the greater scrutiny that the sector will face in the future. We are an aging population and as Judy Downey, Chair of the Relatives and Residents Association put it during her interview, “Residents are older, frailer and iller than ever before.”

The challenges facing care homes are many; the multiple conditions presented by many residents, a greater knowledge of appropriate care leading to greater complexity of care plans, higher standards being imposed by the regulatory framework around both environment and quality of care to name but three. Of all the challenges operators and the broader sector have to face, a lack of funding is front and centre of their problems.  

That lack of financial resources leads to low wages and high staff churn, often reflected in the minimum level of training for staff, a lack of investment in the fabric of care homes.  That situation presents operational risk and greater pressure leads to greater risk. And alongside operational risk comes reputational risk.

What price your reputation? Like early years learning and nursery education there is a huge sensitivity around the quality of care and the safety of a loved one when you place that responsibility into the hands of another. The regulatory framework sets the legal standards but care is about far more than that.  The relationship is based upon confidence and trust.

When things go wrong, and they will, the operational answer is often far easier to find than the reputational one. Now more than ever before people are equipped to access information and will vote with their feet.  People today will share their stories, and with social media and the internet a bad review or a horror story never goes away.  It is too late to think about reputational management in the aftermath of an incident.  A positive and proactive approach to protecting that intangible but most vulnerable and valuable of assets is vital.

Can it be done? Yes. Risk assessment around likely threat scenarios and putting communication plans in place alongside operational response is part of the answer. Fatalities or harm to residents, poor care practice, regulatory or inspection failures, food poisoning or contagious disease outbreak to name but a few.   Care home operators should consider training for staff not only for operational response but also for reputation management that centres upon a positive strategy to communicate and present the facts as they know them to be.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”

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