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ACSA’s Pat Sparrow on taking leadership and a national focus

This week Aged & Community Services Australia (ACSA) officially became a national entity, launching a new look to mark the occasion. Talking Aged Care spoke with ACSA’s Chief Executive Officer Pat Sparrow, reflecting on her first six months with the organisation, and what lies ahead for the national peak body.

ACSA CEO Pat Sparrow
ACSA CEO Pat Sparrow

Since taking the reins of ACSA in August 2016, CEO Pat Sparrow’s focus has been on Government and member relations and the strategic direction of the organisation.

In the last six months, she has completed the transition of bringing over 70 national staff under one management structure and overseen several submissions on issues varying from budgets and finance to elder abuse and the Community Visitors Scheme.

“It’s been a fantastic six months and I can’t believe it’s gone so quickly,” says Ms Sparrow. “February 6 marked the commencement of ACSA becoming a truly national organisation. 

“We believe this will result in a stronger voice for our industry, enhanced policy and advocacy capacity and will ensure even more effective member support services,” she continues.

Ms Sparrow says the new organisation will take the best of ACSA’s state-based member services and deliver them nationally. The four National Directors will also take on national portfolios, which include Employee Relations, Education and Events, Membership and Business Development and Strategy & Policy.

“While ACSA will become more focussed on achieving outcomes for members nationally we understand the importance of the services members receive through local state associations. Our new national structure will enable these fantastic services to continue and extend the best of them to national delivery,” she says.

Ms Sparrow points out many people overlook the contribution aged care makes to the economy; it is worth about 1 percent of Australia’s GDP and employs 2.8 percent of the labour force.

In ACSA’s recent Pre-Budget Submission, it seeks Government support for the industry to develop a much-needed workforce strategy to meet the increasing service demands and changing models to meet consumer expectations. 

“As government has supported other industries restructure so too should it support aged care,” she says. “We don’t have enough workers, and we need staff with the right skills.”

Ms Sparrow believes other staff issues which need addressing include training and education, support for staff to upskill to deliver the services, and the retention of staff.

As Australia’s population ages, Ms Sparrow says there are many challenges for the industry and ACSA works with a wide range of stakeholders including ACSA members, Federal and state MPs, Federal Government departments such as Department of Health and Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and National Aged Care Alliance members.

In other areas, ACSA is involved with the Aged Care Roadmap. “We recognise the work to do and we are committed to working toward it,” says Ms Sparrow. “We are the ones who know on the ground what we can and can’t do and what will and won’t work, and we all need to work together.”

Funding is always an issue and Ms Sparrow says ACSA is very proactive in the areas of policy and strategy. She highlights there is a balance between community expectations and what the government can provide, and thinks there is a need for long-term interests for a funding system to give more certainty for providers.

The roll out of further aged care reforms will also see a range of challenges which will need to be worked through. “We take leadership and we’re the experts,” says Ms Sparrow. 

“The Government doesn’t have the answers, so we give constructive advice - there is no shortage of work for us to do!”

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