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What’s the Single Most Important Component of Client Safety?

Aged Care professionals are charged with protecting the most vulnerable people in our society. Yet, there is never enough money. Where do we allocate scarce resources to ensure client safety?

21 July 2015 | By Dr Ken Byrne

Aged Care professionals are charged with protecting the most vulnerable people in our society.  Yet, there is never enough money.  Where do we allocate scarce resources to ensure client safety?

When client wellbeing is compromised, the common reaction is to review policies and procedures or organise more training.  While these are important, they miss a crucial point.  Most risks to clients begin the moment a new staff member is employed.  If we are really committed to client safety, the best possible screening of staff must be a priority.

Selecting staff is difficult.  Over thirty years’ experience as a corporate psychologist has led me to formulate Ten Laws of Staff Selection.  Here I describe the first five.

Law 1:  Every hiring decision is an exercise in risk assessment. 
When hiring staff, the question that must be asked is “If I hire this person, how much risk are we taking on?”  Getting the data to answer this question takes time, effort and skill.

Law 2:  The best hiring decisions are made based on an understanding of who the person is, not just what they know
With very few exceptions, it is an employee’s character, and values that will create risk to clients.  Understanding the person’s character is key to assessing risk.  A history of having done the job elsewhere or of completing a particular training program says nothing about the character of the subject.

Law 3: Hiring decisions should be made slowly and firing should be done quickly. 
Quick staff selections often happen because of desperation.  Yet, “I’ve got to fill this job” or “We’re desperately short staffed” are not good enough reasons for hiring the person who “looks good” based on a superficial assessment. 

Law 4: The interview is a weak predictor of job performance. 
The interview has a serious flaw.  The most important information that you want to know about an applicant is exactly the information that person wants to keep hidden.  How many people have you interviewed who have said “I think I would be good for this job.  I have experience in a similar job elsewhere, and I have the correct qualification.  Keep in mind that I do irritate people, I tend to be kind of arrogant, and I take a great deal of sick leave.” 

Law 5:  To minimise risk use the best selection tools available.
The Applicant Suitability Matrix™ (ASM) has been developed specifically for the Aged Care sector.  It provides a suite of tools – including a tailor made psychological test – to provide objective information about the level of risk each applicant poses.  It fits easily into any existing recruitment system, and provides data that would otherwise remain invisible.

Poor hiring decisions can show up in small ways.  The carer who is meant to shower an elderly resident, but instead just wets the towel to fool the supervisor, is probably a hiring mistake.  

Then there are much more serious and dramatic examples. The fire at Quaker Hill Nursing Home, set by a drug-abusing nurse fearful that he would be found out, resulted in the deaths of 14 residents.

The remarks of the Coroner are instructive.  “The nursing home was desperate to fill the vacancy for a night shift Registered Nurse.  Virtually nothing was done to check Mr Dean’s bona fides except to ensure that his registration was current...Employers may be exposed to legal liability if they fail unreasonably to check out employees.”

The checking should include doing everything possible to find out about the applicant’s character, because this is what puts clients at risk.