When older people and their families/whanau are looking for aged care they have choices – commercial or voluntary/community sector? If we need residential care would we go for Oceania/BUPA/Ryman or look at Presbyterian Support/Wesleycare/Anglican Living. And what would guide our choices? What makes the difference?
In 2015 the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS) published Outcomes Plus. This examined the special contribution made by community and voluntary sector social service providers. What do they offer which is unique– their “added value” in other words?
The report concluded that these special attributes arise from the flexibility and innovation which the community and voluntary sector can provide: from their networks, accessibility and closeness to local communities.
The staff are local, they’re embedded in the community and have that local knowledge…. If you contract out to the big providers…. Those groups know nothing about the local community.
At the NZCCSS aged care conference, which I mentioned last time, a new piece of research was launched which matched the conference title – Valuing Lives, Living Well. This built on Outcomes Plus but looked especially at services for older people and especially at “faith-based” providers (in this case meaning Christian). What makes these distinctive? How do they differ from the corporate sector?
Looking at these questions from the outside, I thought it might have to do with image and culture. What does the title “Christian” conjure up? My dictionary defines it as “consistent with Christ’s teaching” therefore kind, caring, charitable and unselfish. And this is surely what we want in our aged care services. Secondly, people who have all their lives been immersed in the culture of their faith may wish to spend their later years in an institution where this is practiced, whether it be Catholicism, Quakerism or, for that matter, Islam or Buddhism.
But we must also look at the inner workings of faith-based aged care providers. Using interview material from clients, staff and management in 10 different organisations, the report illustrates elements of added value. These include mission, leadership, inclusiveness and volunteerism, summed up as social value and community development, and even more succinctly as “going the extra mile”.
Mission and leadership ideally demonstrate the Christian values which help to make a “people-centred” service – “people care about people here”. “We promote staff and residents as being one family.” In-house chaplains are frequently on hand to help people with unresolved issues and conversations about the end of life. Christian services have a long history of providing support for the most vulnerable and challenging people, and this continues. They often involve volunteers who can provide links with the wider community and have time to talk, listen and reminisce. This can enhance social inclusion for residents and is part of community development. “It’s like there is an open door between us and the larger community.”
All this adds up to social value and the rather more formal phrase “organisational specific capital.” It means the unique skills, characteristics and infrastructure which faith-based services have built up over time. As a care worker told the researchers – “Value doesn’t necessarily come in materialistic form. Value can be in the time taken… how much (older people) are listened to, or that they are in fact listened to.”
This leaves some very fundamental questions. Do faith-based aged care services have the monopoly of these desirable characteristics? How can they be measured when it comes to contractual requirements? How can these values be extended into parts of the system where they are lacking? And how can we ensure that funders and policy-makers recognise social value? Let me know what you think.
 The “Outcome Plus” report can be seen at http://nzccss.org.nz/news/library/outcomes-plus-25-may-pdf/