It should come as no surprise to aged care facility operators that the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality & Safety (Royal Commission”) has started. It held its first hearing in Adelaide on Friday, 18 January 2019.
Perhaps reflecting the overall sentiment to ‘kick’ for-profit businesses (and the businesspeople who run them) in the current political climate, the Royal Commission ‘came out swinging’ and:
- confirmed that Approved Providers need to make themselves available and must not prevent witnesses (such as employees) from attending the Commission.
- warned Approved Providers from prejudicing or disadvantage care recipients, patients and their families or staff from approaching the Commission or giving information because they have approached the Commission or have given information;
- indicated it would be issuing notices to produce information to Approved Providers shortly (and, thus, suggested Approved Providers start preparing immediately);
- suggested that Approved Providers who do not engage with the Commission only draw attention to themselves.
Interestingly, the Royal Commission indicated that it would be comparing data sets – that is, it will be ‘data matching’ the information from Approved Providers against what they had previously reported (such as, for example, what the facility had previously disclosed to the former Aged Care Complaints Commission). This is likely designed to prevent providers ‘singing a song’ to the Royal Commission vastly different from the story (through their reporting and compliance obligations) they have previously told to the relevant government bodies. This will mean document integrity and maintaining comprehensive and detailed records is paramount.
What To Do Next?
Employers should be aware that any person who “intentionally prevents any person who has been summoned to attend as a witness before any Royal Commission from attending as a witness or from producing anything in evidence pursuant to the summons to attend” commits an ‘indictable offence’ which is punishable for imprisonment up to one year (see s 6L Royal Commission Act 1902 (Cth)). Heavy penalties (including potential imprisonment) also apply if an employee is found to have been dismissed or ‘prejudiced’ (such as having shifts cut) as a result of having produced documents or given evidence to the Royal Commission.
This means employers will need to be ‘razor sharp’ in their practices should they have any employees threatening any participation in the Royal Commission or who seeks to link any potential involvement in the Royal Commission with any separate and unrelated disciplinary action they are subject to.
Further, the Royal Commission will be shortly issuing ‘Notices to Produce’ information to aged care facility operators.
If you receive a Notice to Produce, you should immediately seek advice from us as the best way to respond within the required timeframe, what documents you are required to provide and how to manage other competing privacy and confidentiality obligations.
We can also assist you seek an extension of time to comply with the ‘Notice to Produce’, if you require.
Employers should note that failure to comply with such a Notice could result in 2 years imprisonment (and the Royal Commission can also issue search warrants on your facility) so the need to comply with such Notices are essential.
Manage your legal obligations and ensure your centre does not experience any reputational damage during this challenging time for aged care providers. Get the specialist help you need from industry experts Workplace Wizards. Contact Managing Director Mark Ritchie on 0458 6444 69 or firstname.lastname@example.org