Len Merton is the CEO at Advinia Health Care. Care Talk caught up with Len and asked him about his thoughts on the current state of the market, the challenges for the sector and his vision for the future of social care.
I have been CEO with Advinia for the past 5 years and we recently grew our business significantly with the purchase of almost 3000 additional beds, based on our confidence that with hard work and a skilled team, the sector still affords great opportunities.
There is no doubt that times are tough, probably the hardest I have experienced in my 14 years in care. In what should be a future proof market in terms of demand as a result of the growing elderly population, there are many hurdles to overcome to run a great service and achieve worthy and deserved financial outcomes to enable sustainability, investment and continued growth.
This is a people business and good providers are led by strong leaders who are involved at grass roots level and who value and recognise their entire team. Our most important team members are our Home Managers – a good Home Manager goes hand in hand with a Good home. Having a caring attitude is a given, but Home Managers these days must have leadership skill sets in all fields including sound quality care knowledge, strong and respectful staff management, financial awareness and commercial acumen. They are constantly under pressure from the Local Authorities, professional visitors and the regulators and of course high expectations from family members who are often misled by the misguided and overly negative media – when was the last time you read a good news story about care homes? We know that is the norm but it doesn’t make the news sadly. A good Home Manager is worth their weight in gold and should be valued as such and it is a shame that the media are so blinkered and do not pay more attention to the devout commitment provided by our care staff.
Advinia is successful because we achieve high occupancy levels as a result of each homes quality reputation on a local level, and smart and simple working processes enable sustainable financial delivery even with an 80% reliance on Local Authority fees. We are confident to develop and grow within non affluent areas and cater for the mass market, whereas most new builds concentrate on the more affluent south. Our business has good values and we operate with full transparency under a whole team approach, recently being nominated as a finalist for the Business Model Efficiency award.
Our greatest challenge currently is staffing and there is no doubt Brexit has had negative impact on our ability to recruit and retain – not just with nurses where the situation has been critical for several years and forced us into de-registering a number of homes from nursing to residential, albeit very successfully. We also face disappointingly low fees from Councils, much higher resident acuity levels and high uncompromising expectations from the regulators. Adding this with higher staffing costs with living wage increases and pension contributions that far outweigh fee increases, it comes as no surprise to see so many homes closing under the strains. However, with demand for our homes high and a trend that points to a shortage of care beds worsening, we are optimistic that our growth will continue providing we retain our values and focus on people management, attracting and retaining the best.
I do hope that the Government steps in and forces Councils to use the high council tax increases to raise fees at the same rate to be more reflective of care costs, otherwise Providers will continue to focus on growing self funders and turn away from the vast majority of people who need quality care but reliant on inadequate council funding.