Why I’m looking forward. Are you?

In 2012, my mum attempted to take her own life.

Her depression and anxiety got too much for her. It left me shaken and scared for the future. The whole situation scared me: The public health system we were in was even scarier. The supports and interventions just weren’t helping her and life was getting overwhelming. I can see why Mum was struggling, but was there anything that would help her to get her out of the deep dark hole she was in?

I want what is best for my Mum and if something like this could happen so quickly while she was so young, what could happen when she was 65+? I mean, there is nothing I can do right now to change the mental health system, and after the scars it left would I be able to?

She is well now, but I want to make sure she gets the best of care when we want it. Now I have set my sights on improving the next port-of-call in her journey — aged care.

I talk to so many of my friends about how they have difficulty finding care for their grandparents who have dementia. Or if they have parents who need more support they can’t get the continual support they need to keep them at home. Is aged care broken?

With anxiety and depression being a strong precursor to developing dementia, what would the future hold for my Mum? In 20 or 30 years time, would I be able to get her the support she needs to stay in his own home? Or would I be able to care for her while still being a business owner, a partner, a mother, and a friend?

Looking at the way the system is developing and the trends of the workforce I get scared. Less than 1 in 5 workers are under 35 … not that big a deal right? Well it is when you see that the workforce is ageing significantly faster than any other industry — median age is 48+ and continuing to get older, well above the median Australian age of 37.7 (Department of Health and Ageing, 2012).

In 5–10 years time the bulk of our workforce is going to retire (or at least is planning on it). Does this future leave us with the executives, the managers, the frontline staff to support each other, and the people they care for? Do we have the workers who are passionate about aged care? Is there enough age diversity to drive innovation and build cultural knowledge? Are all age groups being involved in problem solving for the future?

We need more workers. We need more passionate stories. We need future leaders to step up and help heal the system. We need new initiatives, we need to trial new ways of thinking.

Government targets are for 800,000 aged care workers by 2025 and only 40,000 aged care workers are trained each year (CS&HISC, 2013). Will these trained workers continue to be retained by the industry? … Talking to aged care employers and their younger leaders, I’m scared they won’t. Are the Government or our Peak Bodies able to do this? They definitely can’t do it alone. Neither can I.

I get scared when I think about the difficulties that I will face when planning for my Mum’s care into the future. Will it be what she needs? Will it be delivered in a way that she wants? Or will we be left to struggle like many of the ‘Sandwich Generation’ does?

I am here to stare this problem in the face.

I am here to develop new ways to tackle the recruitment and retention of younger workers. We need to improve the workforce’s age diversity if we are to build an innovative and supportive industry.

I want to promote the emerging young leaders our future so desperately needs. It’s not going to be easy. There is an image issue, there are workplace problems, and the pay (for many) sucks. But there are so many opportunities to get this right. We need a place to talk and discuss how we can build a workforce where all ages are supported. Creating a vision for the future that works not only right now, but in 50 years time.

Let’s get our heads out of the sand and work together to build a better future together. Will you join me?

(Story retold with permission from my amazing mother)

CS&HISC. (2013) Time for Action. Retrieved 16 February, from http://www.cshisc.com.au/media/184810/CS_HISC_Position_on_industry_FAQs.pdf

Department of Health and Ageing. (2012). The aged care workforce 2012: Final report. Retrieved 22 June 2015, from https://www.dss.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/11_2014/rdp004-nacwcas-report.pdf