On October 29, 2020, global leaders in aged care participated in a virtual roundtable to investigate the future in a post-COVID world and discussed opportunities for improvement and innovation in the aged care sector.
The opportunities that have emerged as a result of the global pandemic range from changes in government policies to care practices to resetting our priorities. It was suggested that we are approaching a moment where countries are recognizing that the way we care for older people is wholly inadequate. Governments have not prioritized or, in some cases, even supported, their older adults. In some countries, for example, there is no system of long-term care; it is all family care and the role that families play is largely underappreciated. This is our opportunity for a collective and global response but first we need a vision for what aged care should look like, recognizing the essential roles of governments, the care sector and families.
This is also our opportunity to reframe aging. Older people are not monolithic and yet, during this pandemic, they have universally been characterized as frail and vulnerable. As such, the value that this demographic brings to societies is overlooked and ageism continues to be insidious. It is our responsibility to change the narrative not only about older adults but about the care sector. It is a sector that plays an essential role and yet, it remains a stepchild to the acute care system.
COVID 19 has underscored the importance of investing in our workforce. These essential workers deserve better pay and adequate training. They should be valued for the important work they do. In most developed countries we will face a substantial labor shortage that will demand a concerted effort to attract more people to jobs in our field as well as a cooperative model between staff and families. We need to convince people that jobs in our field are valued and valuable. And, we need to determine how technology can leverage the talent resources we have.
There has been an eruption of innovation that has flown under the radar. Disasters force organizations to experiment, take risks and mobilize quickly in ways they wouldn’t under normal circumstances. How do we capture that innovation and carry it into the future? We need to not only continue to innovate but take our ideas and solutions to governments to shape public policy.
Given the role that technology has played during the pandemic in the growth of telehealth and remote monitoring as well as in fostering social connectedness, digital literacy has become an essential tool. This is as true for older adults as it is for the workforce that supports them. We have learned, for example, that loneliness is the silent killer. Technology can mitigate loneliness for some so it is incumbent on us to invest in digital literacy. But we can’t take full advantage of technology without universal high speed internet.
Managing through COVID 19 continues to be an enormous challenge for those who care for and support older adults. As we face a 2nd or 3rd wave, we may be better prepared than we were with the first wave as we have a better idea what to expect and how to respond. Yet, in many countries, we are sorely lacking the government support that is needed and are largely on our own as a sector. This is a time to pull together, learn from one another and step up our innovation as we shape a vision for the future.
Thank you to all of our participants.
El-Aged Care, Ltd.
European Ageing Network (EAN)
Scottish Care Forum
Home & Community Care Ireland (HCCI)
American University in Cairo
International Longevity Centre
Katie Smith Sloan
LeadingAge/Global Ageing Network
Margie Van Zyl Chapman
South Africa Care Forum