Kymberly Martin
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More collaboration needed between disability providers

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Providers must unite for a stronger voice to reach the NDIA about challenges being faced. Speaking to F2L at the NDIS Service Delivery Outcomes forum, Carer Solutions Australia, Founder and CEO, Jane Morrell said it was important to  share experiences about issues within the disability space when it comes to running both Not-for-Profit (NFP) and full profit businesses. According to Morrell, peak bodies are not representative of the voice of both NFP and full profits. For example, some grants to directly assist member organisations in the transition to the NDIS are only available to NFPs.

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“There is still an obvious divide that is present in the sector which needs to be removed as we move into the NDIS world which is a consumer-driven marketplace. This divide is archaic thinking and change needs to come from peak bodies down.

“The NDIS is a fantastic initiative but there is a lot of work going on that has to progress in order to develop. As the NDIS matures a lot of these problems will be eradicated but in the meantime it is extremely difficult to navigate through the system as a provider.” She said a number of the initiatives that have been put in place are only available for NFPs. “This is a problem, especially as we are moving into a consumer-driven marketplace it makes no sense that there is no assistance for all types of providers.

“There was a lot of discussion at the forum about having our views heard at the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA).  Whether providers are large or small, everyone has a place and a voice.  Our strength lies as a collective,” she said.

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Morrell said communicating notification changes, for example, can be problematic. “Often we do not receive the update before it has already affected participants. “The customer calls us to query the situation that results in our staff putting extra time and effort into trying to chase someone at the NDIA who is familiar with what we are talking about. That in itself can be challenging internally as often agency staff are new and do not always understand the content fully themselves.

“As a sector we need to be realistic and share information and bring all these issues out into the open but we have to operate as best we can within a system which in unlikely to look any different for some time yet.

“The NDIS is an unpredictable and moving beast and we are finding the major issue has been rushing everyone through the scheme to meet the timeline set by the NDIA. There was discussion at this conference about the agency slowing down the rollout which would assist providers get up to speed and help the agency as well.”

To get the message across to the NDIA, the industry has to stand together.  As Morrell sees it every organisation sits in the silo but does not always communicate. “It’s all about collaboration rather than competition,” she said.  “There are enough participants and clients out there for everyone to service, but we must get together as a uniform voice to move forward and approach the agency as a provider group rather than going through a peak body not necessarily representative of both NFPs and FPs. The space is open now and we have to think differently and develop new ways to satisfy all types of businesses and at the moment that is not the case.”

For Aftercare Queensland NDIS project manager, Emma Thomas, one of the major issues facing the NFP sector is in maintaining financial sustainability for an industry with small profit margins. “We need to use our staff and resources as efficiently as possible.” Thomas also was of the view that after hearing from other providers at the conference it was becoming increasingly important to share information. “While recognising it is a competitive market place the industry needs to collaborate and be open and honest about their experiences.  Sharing information must benefit the sector as a whole. That will enable us to continue to provide a quality of service to the most vulnerable people in the community,” she told F2L.

Nowhere was this continuity of information more evident than since the NDIS rollout in Ipswich and South East Queensland. According to Thomas the sector is overwhelmed at the moment with some clients waiting months to get their plans approved, largely as a result of the volume of applications. “The NDIS is a good scheme for giving people a greater quality of life but more challenges emerge once we roll out live and these should be well thought out prior.”

Janine Roberts also attended the forum and spoke to F2L about Gemini video monitoring therapy, a web based program claimed to increase reading, language and social skills for children with special needs. Roberts is a senior representative for the device in Australia. Asked to comment about her experiences with the NDIS she told F2L that organisations had become more professional and accountable. “People have more choice now and with new players entering the market and if consumers don’t like what they have they can change it.”

However, there still seems to be a high level of confusion about the NDIS from many in the industry. Another service provider in accommodation for a regional centre acknowledged this he said while Medicare was very complex in the beginning it is now regarded as a good scheme.

Fighting Chance Australia CEO, Laura O’Reilly also spoke about the need for the disability sector to lift its eyes up, away from the administrative challenges that organisations are facing internally around adapting to NDIS  and being more focused on service innovation. “My observation has been that after two years most programs are still the same despite the sector talking constantly about needing to adapt,” O’Reilly told F2L.  “There is a need to focus on the quality of what we are delivering to people with disability and there are some cool innovations out there.”

Fighting Chance works with the community to identify the challenges faced by people with disability by designing and building businesses which can assist with resolving these issues and actively involves consumers in planning processes for increased self-advocacy.