After a series of incidents in the aged care sector uncovered by the Royal Commission as well as the Commission’s interim report released on 31st October 2019, Meltwater takes a deep dive into the online and social media coverage related to the Aged Care industry along with the Royal Commission in Australia and gives a brief prognosis for the rest of 2019.

All data and insights were gathered between 1 Jan 2019 – 31 Jul 2019.

Set up in the spring of 2018, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety was tasked to review the health of the industry and recommend the necessary steps for the industry as a whole from conditions through to policies, regulations and practices. Safety and service quality of the homes were the main foci of the commission’s objectives. These objectives were based on more than 5,000 submissions from the public received by the Federal Government on the state of the aged care in Australia. Since the announcement, it currently stands at 6,535 in October and has received more than 4,188 telephone calls to its information line. Based on the feedback received, the most common complaint was the substandard or unsafe services rendered in aged care.

The Facts Behind the Probe

So far this year, there were various topics that went virulent throughout online media and the most discussed topic was the mistreatment of the elderly in aged care homes. There were 7,300 mentions of this topic which consisted of news on the public hearing of the Oakden nursing home case and that more than 3,700 assaults were reported in the past financial year. Home care (4,600 mentions) was up next on online media’s scrutiny and mostly were related to the exorbitant fees and service shortage in the market. Befittingly a report by The Age received wide news coverage on the systemic problems within the aged care infrastructure. 

The next topic, which had 4,080 mentions, was on food and nutrition or the lack thereof. Reports revolved around food budgets in the industry and the problem transposed to one that was silently affecting the residents in the homes. ScoMo’s promise of a $662 million funding boost to the aged care sector (3,300 mentions) also piqued some interest in the Australian press but many were sceptical as it was seen as a placebo for the federal elections.

On the upcoming report, Meltwater approached Luke Westenberg, Chief Executive of the Australian Aged Care Industry Association, and he highlights a significant transition in the industry.

“Physical infrastructure has vastly improved, there are more consumers in the system than before and acuity levels in residential care have changed a lot compared to 10-20 years ago.”

– Luke Westenberg, Chief Executive of the Australian Aged Care Industry Association

On changes in residential and home care services, Mr Westenberg said, “Residential aged care facilities are purpose-built to high standards and are more comparable to a five-star hotel, compared to a converted suburban house in the 90s. There has also been massive growth in home care.” Mr Westenberg hopes “… the Royal Commission interim report will provide some considered thinking regarding steps we can take to ensure we have an aged care system that can continue to meet the changing needs of the growing number of older Australians.“

 

The Social Media Treatment

After the announcement of the Royal Commission, Australians lined the virtual hallways of social media to disclose their ailments on the aged care sector. On the top of the list was the topic of ScoMo’s funding boost to the sector – claiming 41% (3,700) of the total mentions. However, the majority of that conversation focused on calling ScoMo a ‘liar’ as the announcement contradicted planned budget cuts to the industry, echoing the press’ scepticism. 

Netizens also discussed the mistreatment of the residents in the homes (2,000 mentions) and ‘horror stories’ filled the comment sections and terms such as ‘abuse’ and ‘sedation’ were most used throughout the observed duration. Australians also vented their frustrations on the labour conditions of workers in the homes (1,900 mentions). Despite the overarching problematic system, netizens highlighted the testing labour conditions for the workers in areas such as enhanced training, salary hike and inadequate staffing.

 

Trending themes

A unique feature of Meltwater’s platform is its Social Echo metric – the AI-generated calculation of an article’s reach on the various social platforms. The feature tracks the total number of posts, reactions, and comments related to the article on Facebook, as well as the number of times the article has been tweeted or retweeted on Twitter. A Daily Mail article on the abuse of a nursing home resident by one of its carers had the highest Social Echo for this year with almost 120,000 shares. This is significant as the next highest Social Echo article was an opinion piece on News.com.au by freelance journalist Libby Hill on failed election promises. This only registered 24,000 social shares. With this metric, observers can quickly rank the various articles based on how netizens ‘consumed’ them and how keen they were on the specific story. This would be helpful for investigative panels such as the Royal Commission as they would be able to focus on specific examples and topics that may sprout from the incident.

Meltwater’s Social Echo metric could also aid the Royal Commission to discover best practices within the industry for recommendations. Articles widely shared by netizens online reflect the general positive sentiment of the issue found within the story. For example, success stories such as the dementia-friendly town of Kiama in New South Wales and the scheme of bringing aged care residents with toddlers were widely shared by Australians, recording almost 16,000 and 3,600 shares respectively. These projects resonated with the wider online audience and policymakers can refer to them as a reference point to implement better infrastructural programmes for the aged care industry.

Discovering insights such as the ones above within social media is a boon for government bureaus and researchers as it presents an additional form of untethered and organic public feedback. In an Australian Financial Review article, Commissioner Richard Tracey noted, “The royal commission is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come together as a nation, to create a better system of care for elderly Australians, that better align expectations with Australian people.” With a distinctive apparatus such as Social Echo, recommendations for aged care practitioners would definitely better reflect the opinions of the people for Australia’s elderly population.

Social media mentions on the different aged care providers

With the spotlight on the sector, which aged care provider had Australians talking in social media? Based on user-generated content (UGC), Meltwater uncovered that Bupa (2,500) was mentioned almost four times more than the next provider AVEO (670). Australians discussed a series of shocking incidents discovered in Bupa facilities such as maggots-infested head wounds, poor patient care and sexual assault. In addition, their highly publicised legal battle with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) on its falsely advertised claims did not help their case. Insights found in UGC could have a negative impact on the Bupa brand as these views may propagate negative sentiment throughout the market.

A spotlight was shone on another service provider AVEO as netizens discussed whether there were allegations of tax evasion from the takeover bid by a Canadian investment company Brookfield. There was keen interest on a Twitter post by journalist and University of Sydney Professor Michael West where he insofar called AVEO an “aged care mob” based on the subpar services rendered to its patients.

The emergency evacuation of the residents of an Earle Haven retirement home also had Australians talking in social media. The emergency was precipitated by the dispute between Earle Haven and its staff which ended with them walking out of their jobs. Social media was rife with netizens blaming the provider’s owner ostentatious lifestyle as the cause of the walkout and that there were large amounts of money being siphoned out of the residents’ bank accounts

After the controversies and scandals, the nation awaits the findings of the Royal Commission to rectify the gaps within the aged care industry. Australia’s ageing population deserve better for their efforts in building the nation. More support should be given to those who live and work within the spaces of aged care because this would ultimately provide the best environment for our older generation to live well.

 

Reference:

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety was established on 8 October 2018 by the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd). The Honourable Richard Tracey AM RFD QC and Ms Lynelle Briggs AO have been appointed as Royal Commissioners. The Letters Patent for the Royal Commission, which formally appoint the Royal Commissioners, also outline the Commission’s terms of reference. The Commissioners are required to provide an interim report by 31 October 2019, and a final report by 30 April 2020. This website provides information about the work of the Royal Commission, and how you can engage with the Commission: including how submissions can be made, and when and where hearings will be held.