AAA Technology Review: Technology connects providers in new partnership

A group of not-for-profit providers on the NSW Central Coast has launched PACE Care, an innovative collaboration that seeks to leverage scale, shared resources and IT systems to support longterm sustainability and market competitiveness.

Powering the shared services model is the Care Systems integrated financial, client billing and human resource platform. PACE Care has emerged on the Central Coast of New South Wales as a new model of industry collaboration.

Peninsula Village, Adelene Village, Central Coast Community Care Association and Evergreen Life Care are the four founding members of PACE, which launched in March and have recently been joined by a fifth organisation, Vietnam Veterans Keith Payne VC Hostel.

As part of the model, the not-for-profit providers have agreed to share resources, expertise and consolidate back office functions utilising Care Systems’ fully compliant and robust software product suite to achieve business efficiencies and cost savings.

A major driver for setting up PACE is to provide economies of scale and increase the purchasing power of its members, which can be difficult to achieve as a smaller standalone organisation, says the partnership’s project manager Ron Thomsen. Since it launched in March, the group is already attracting the attention of suppliers and service providers keen to offer its members a competitive deal, he says.

“We are seeing a much a wider interest in PACE from organisations offering services such as insurance, clinical support and mobility equipment because of our scale.”

The five organisations collectively employ over 700 staff and deliver services to more than 1,250 clients across the wider Central Coast region – from as south as Umina in the Gosford Local Government Area to as north as Morisset in the Wyong area.

“The emphasis has been to try and be more competitive in a changing marketplace and meet the evolving needs of our clients,” Thomsen says.

“We’re not only looking for dollar savings but efficiencies that will free up management time to better apply their expertise where they are most experienced and that’s looking after our client base,” he says. “Obviously to be competitive and to meet the needs of your clients you have to be efficiency-and-economically-focused and one of the ways to achieve that is through economies of scale.”

Thomsen says the journey to establishing PACE has involved considerable planning and preparation; with each board undertaking a due diligence process prior to agreeing to form part of the new entity. An extensive feasibility study was also conducted by accounting firm Stewart Brown.

The board of PACE Care, which is a public company limited by guarantee, is made up of the CEOs of the five member organisations. PACE has recently completed a business and marketing plan and identified priority projects that have emerged from its strategic planning process, says Thomsen.

David Sinclair, a director with Stewart Brown, says a major benefit of the model is that it allows the individual members of PACE to reap the benefits of collaboration, such as cost savings and business efficiencies, but at the same time retain their individual autonomy and strategic direction.

“There are synergies between the organisations and goodwill across the various boards and management to achieve cost savings and other benefits and still maintain a level of autonomy for each of their organisations,” Sinclair says.

Unlike a merger, where there is a dominant party, and where one or both the entities lose their identity, PACE allows the organisations to operate as a collaborative unit as well as individually. “In this case, PACE is almost like an outsourced service company, where each of the member companies are outsourcing certain services to PACE, such as human resources and other back office operations,” says Sinclair.

Outsourcing these services to PACE is where the greatest efficiencies and cost savings are likely to come from, he says.
“It is certainly a model that I believe could work in other environments and other organisations if the good will is there between them.”

Care systems as the technology enabler

To support the sharing of services, PACE members approached Care Systems to consolidate their back office functions such as accounting, client billing and human resource systems, including rostering and payroll.

The technology platform designed by Care Systems gives each member organisation their own identity and secure system environment from which they can operate independently, then utilising the flexibility of the Care Systems product suite to enable PACE the scope to operate their shared back office across all functions.

Care Systems’ best-of-breed client management system automates the management of all forms of residential and independent living agreements. The system provides automatic fee calculation, contract management, and workflow management, and generates fully compliant registers, statements and invoices.

PACE is working with Care Systems to deploy a mobile human resources management system that enables a mobile environment for each employee to check rosters, training and certifications while being able to apply for leave via their phone or tablet. An exciting deployment will be the highly innovative PACE-wide SMS system that can be used to fill critical short-term rostering needs across each organisation, using PACE determined classifications and personnel categories as their filter.

The opportunity for PACE to extend its centralised back office services to other Central Coast providers and those further afield will also be explored, says Thomsen.

Sharing Staff and Training

Tapping into a large staffing pool to fill vacancies and share expertise across PACE has huge potential, says Thomsen.

For example, PACE is currently looking into the possibility of sharing the costs of employing a clinical governance expert to oversee all the organisations.

Thomsen says there will be opportunities for the providers to combine their staff training, which will also facilitate the movement of workers between the organisations and the sharing of best practice. “A unified training program does help with efficiencies and hopefully will continue to lift the overall standards of care to our clients,” says Thomsen.

A wider network of organisations can also deliver new career pathways for staff, he says.

To facilitate the employment of staff across organisations, PACE is hoping to develop a single enterprise bargaining agreement that will apply to all members, and to collaborate in the area of registered nurse employment.

Ted Coupe, CEO of Evergreen Life Care, says he is excited by the potential of the collaborative model to respond to the competitive pressures in the industry and to add to the capabilities of the member organisations.

Since 2013, he says the local providers had been meeting on the Central Coast to benchmark their performance and were looking for a way to formalise their collaboration as the reform agenda ramped up. “It’s about supporting our long-term sustainability. If we can reduce costs in a number of areas that will certainly impact on what we can offer our clients in the way of better pricing, for example.”

“In the area of staffing, we’re thinking about setting up our own employment group for those hard-to-recruit staff such as registered nurses, whereby staff coming into that group will be able to work amongst the member organisations,” Coupe says.

The PACE board is also considering growth into new service areas that could be delivered by the group, such as expansion into home care. Furthermore, Thomsen says PACE has a vision to function as a collective voice to government representing providers on the NSW Central Coast.

“Our combined employment and aged care client base means that we are a substantial operator on the Central Coast.”

While the PACE collaborative model is still in its early days, it has an ambitious agenda of projects underway and sees membership growth as a strategic priority.

Published in Australian Ageing Agenda Technology Review, May 2016. Click here to view online article.

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