18/11/2016 - 10:29

Providers await NDIS clarity

18/11/2016 - 10:29

Bookmark

Save articles for future reference.

WA’s disability service providers are continuing to innovate despite being left in limbo pending a decision on the implementation of the NDIS.

Fiona Beemier says the timing of the rebrand from Intework to Intelife provides an opportunity to make potential customers aware of its diverse services. Photo: Attila Csaszar

WA’s disability service providers are continuing to innovate despite being left in limbo pending a decision on the implementation of the NDIS.

An agreement between state and federal governments on the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme has yet to be reached despite expectations of a decision by the end of October, according to the state’s peak industry group.

National Disability Services WA says the delay means that more than 400,000 Western Australians who have some form of disability, and the 200,000-plus carers in the state, remain uncertain as to how support services will be accessed, delivered and funded in the foreseeable future.

Some disability services providers are taking pre-emptive measures to ensure their ongoing viability, assessing operational challenges and seeking ways to retain and attract customers as the sector transitions to the new regime, with the potential for funding to shift from upfront to post-service delivery.

One of the state’s largest disability services organisations, Intework Incorporated, recently announced a name change after 25 years – Intelife Group.

Intelife chief executive Fiona Beermier said the new name reflected how the organisation’s services had evolved into areas other than employment over time and better aligned how it planned to position itself in the market. 

“Although it has been something our organisation has been talking about for a number of years the timing of the rebranding was part of the current sector changes,” Ms Beermier told Business News.

“This was an opportunity to allow our potential customers to understand the breadth of what we offer; since the introduction of the NDIS trial we have sought out ways to enhance our services.”

Ms Beermier said the level of uncertainty around the implications of the NDIS had led the sector to evaluate efficiencies. 

“This is about organisations reaching certain standards, and I think that’s a good thing,” she said.

“It becomes more of a competitive environment because it (NDIS) promotes consumer choice and control over where they take their package and where the money will be spent.

“If you’re not providing a quality service or promoting what individuals are looking for, well people will vote with their feet.”

Disability services provider Rocky Bay cited the need for innovation as a driver of its decision to introduce a humanoid robot called Milo earlier this year.

Milo has a range of facial expressions and is designed for use in therapy for children with autism. The organisation is the first disability service provider in Australia to introduce Milo, which was developed in the US by RoboKind.

Manager therapy professional services, Mai Welsh, said that while Rocky Bay’s innovative services and use of technology placed it ahead of the curve, the main focus was on generating positive outcomes for its clients.

“However, the additional benefit in this market is it does set you apart from the others and that means that we may attract new business from having Milo,” she said.

Changes

The are currently two scheme trials under way in WA at different site locations – a state-administered WA NDIS (south-west region) trial, and the Commonwealth-run NDIS (Midland, Kalamunda, Mundaring zone), in addition to traditional block funding in the remaining areas.

NDS WA operations manager Frances Buchanan said the Productivity Commission conducted a review of disability services across Australia several years ago and found significant discrepancies in each state.

“Each state had its own model and there were lots of inconsistencies; some people were getting a lot of services, others nothing,” Ms Buchanan told Business News.

“There were long waiting lists, unmet needs, limited choice for the person with the disability; inequities across the sector.

“But this was not necessarily the case in WA.”

Ms Buchanan said that, prior to the introduction of the NDIS Act, WA already had a scheme in place that included similar features to the federal government’s proposed relationship-based service model, such as individualised funding, as well as some degree of customer choice and control.

“Basically WA didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” she said.

“An agreement was signed to do two years’ worth of trialling of both models, so that would either indicate what model was better for WA or suggest a hybrid model that took the best from both.”

Ms Buchanan said there were some key operational differences between the models, including the pricing of services as well as the funding mechanisms. She said organisations under the state model were funded three months in advance, whereas the Commonwealth model placed funding in arrears, after the service had been delivered. 

“We knew this would be somewhat of a burden for WA organisations that provide services in both trial sites, but for the sake of getting the best system the sector was open to that,” Ms Buchanan said. 

“But October has come and gone and there has not been a whisper.

“Service providers are unsure what to tell the people they support and how to prepare themselves ahead of the formal rollout of a scheme in July.”

Some organisations that operate across different sites, including Intelife, Rocky Bay and the Autism Association of WA, have invested in new IT systems in order to accommodate anticipated changes and process the different payroll systems attached to each funding model.

“In terms of invoicing, currently we are operating under three different business models. As a result, we have had to treat it more as a business than it ever has been,” Intelife’s Ms Beermier said.

“We’re fortunate that the size of the organisation that we are can carry some of what the small providers won’t be able to in terms of receiving income in arrears.

“Really, an organisation needs to have a minimum three months’ cash flow in reserve, and if they don’t then they could suffer.”

Autism Association of WA AIM employment program executive manager, Russel Thomas, said the biggest challenge the sector faced was the compliance framework around funding.

“We have had to set up client management and payment systems to meet whatever funding situation that eventuates as each are quite different in how they are managed,” Mr Thomas told Business News.

“It’s a huge shift in operations for a lot of organisations in terms of moving from bulk advanced payments to having to claim after the service is delivered.

“It has been hard to be strategic and know what infrastructure to put in place; we’re trying to set up systems and develop a strategy for the organisation based on unknowns.”

Mr Thomas said the state and Commonwealth governments were still negotiating the scheme and hoped a decision would be made within the next few weeks. 

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

Subscription Options