A note from Respect CEO, Jason Binder: Could one word have wrecked an industry?

Now think about that person in the last stage of their life in a nursing home because they need love, care, and support.

Now think about the owner of that nursing home referring to them as a ‘bed’.

It doesn’t feel right, does it? That a vulnerable older person you love is being referred to in such a dehumanising way as if they’re just an object in a system.

For those of you that may not be aware, that’s how the residential aged care sector in Australia refers to the older people we’re entrusted to care for.

That’s right – they’re referred to as beds.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I’ve been thinking about it in terms of providers and their strategies, as the leader of one of the fastest-growing aged care providers, and about how we ended up with the Royal Commission into Aged Care.

None of it is right, still.

Don’t get me wrong. Most aged care providers provide great care, and you can go to any of Respect’s homes and randomly ask a resident how they like it there, and they’ll tell you it’s great. But the sector is still talking the same – and if it’s still talking the same, it’s still thinking the same, and if it’s still thinking the same, it’s still doing the same.

One of the things that’s most frustrating is that many providers still have the same mentality around bed numbers. It hasn’t changed – not one bit. In board rooms around the country, conversations are about how many beds numbers the target is. What’s our development pipeline with how many beds? How many beds is viable? What’s the perfect size of a home in terms of beds? Who has what bed numbers?

Following the rapid growth of Respect, we get asked a lot now, how many beds do you want? How many beds do you have now? What is your bed numbers strategy? What is your bed target?

It would be easy for Respect to get swept up in this “growing provider”, “big provider” club and all the bed talk, but there’s a very severe problem with this thinking – we’re not looking after beds! We’re looking after highly vulnerable older people, people’s older loved ones and the people who built and created the society we now have the privilege to live in.

So if I replace the word ‘beds’ with the word grandparents, how does it feel to you?

How many grandparents do you want? How many grandparents do you have now? What is your grandparent numbers strategy? What is your target number of grandparents?

It sounds wrong, doesn’t it?

Can you see how this, one simple word, could contribute to a problem so big it needed a Royal Commission?

I don’t think it’s hard to see that if you’re using distant and dehumanising language to refer to the people you’re caring for, this might end up with actions that lead to the wheels falling off.

This thinking is a big problem in the sector, and it’s a problem I’ve resolved myself by replacing the word bed with the word grandparent in my thoughts and heart when I need to make strategic decisions.

If I have to think about growth, I don’t think how many beds should be the goal, I think how many grandparents should be the goal – and if that is the goal, then I’d damn well better be having more grandparents because more grandparents deserve better care, not because Respect needs more ‘beds’ as part of a growth strategy!

If I think about grandparents and not beds, we can’t grow without the true mission baked into that growth – that the care for older people must be better.

If it’s Respect and we move into your community, the care must be better than before we got there, otherwise, we’ve failed. If you’re a provider, and you can’t say in your heart that you are in a community to provide better care than what was there before – then pack it up, because older people don’t need you, that community doesn’t need you, and the sector doesn’t need you.

I know people aren’t using the word beds with bad intentions, and I still use it if I’m factually talking about things (so I’m not being silly about it all) but I’d challenge all leaders in our industry – when you’re thinking about growth, plans, and strategy, ditch the word beds in your hearts and minds, and embrace a word that reflects what we’re all trying to do – provide better care for older loved ones who deserve that care.

No one needs your beds – they need your care.

Could changing one word turn an industry around? Is language that powerful?

I believe it is.

Jason Binder is one of the founding members of Respect Aged Care and currently sits as the Managing Director of the organisation. You can keep up to date with Jason by following him on LinkedIn @JasonBinder.

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