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ACCPA to focus on older Australians, says CEO

When speaking publicly, new Aged & Community Care Providers Association chief executive officer Tom Symondson said he will focus on how sector issues are impacting older Australians instead of how they affect providers.

Speaking at ACCPA’s inaugural national conference in Adelaide Thursday, Mr Symondson told delegates: “It is easy to fall into that trap of talking about ourselves, and I’m afraid in the public arena that’s not going to help us, it’s not going to work. It’s not why we’re here. We’re not here just to exist. We are here to support older Australians. And we are, I know, proud of that fact. So let’s shout it from the rooftops.”

That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care about providers, stressed Mr Symondson. “Of course I do. We are your association. But that’s not the story I want us to tell. I want us to talk about the impact that a lack of funding or a difficulty of recruitment, or impacts on workforce have on the older Australians that we are here to support, to care for and to respect.”

In his first ACCPA address – and just two weeks as CEO – Mr Symondson told delegates why he took on the role of head of ACCPA: “It ticks all of the practical boxes,” he said. “It’s interesting, it matters. It’s in a sector I care about. It’s with people I understand and enjoy being with. It’s in a sector I care about. It’s with people I understand and enjoy being with.”

Mr Symondson said the role also connected to his personal history as his grandmother used to be a manager of an aged care facility. The aged care sector therefore “matters deeply to my family, had contributed to my family,” said Mr Symondson. “So that’s me, that’s why I’m here. That’s why I care.”

Reflecting on the industry, Mr Symondson said: “This is an incredible sector full of passionate people who care a great deal about what they do. And they care a great deal about the people that they are here to serve, and to support. I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t think that was the case. So that’s a no-brainer.”

“I understand difficulty and fatigue and extreme challenge.”

As for the challenges ahead, Mr Symondson told delegates – as the former CEO of the Victorian Healthcare Association – he was more than up for the job. “I’ve been in public health during a global pandemic in the most locked-down jurisdiction probably in the world, I understand complexity. And I understand difficulty and fatigue and extreme challenge.”

Citing the royal commission, Covid, workforce shortages and funding shortfalls, Mr Symondson said: “I don’t think there’s probably been another time in the recent history of aged care that has been so challenging.” And yet, he added, “you all still turn up, you’re all still here.”

The constant barrage of negative stories has had an impact on trust, he said. “And so we have a great job ahead of us to put that trust for the sector back where it should rightfully be – as the most trusted sector in our nation, because you do the most important job in our nation.”

Mr Symondson told delegates he wanted to build that trust in partnerships with everybody involved in the delivery of aged care: providers, government, unions, consumer advocacy colleagues and partners. “We have to have a trusted partnership with all of the above, because we can’t do it without any section of those groups. We all are in it together.”

Taken from Australian Ageing Agenda 14 October 2022 Media Release.

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