JUDE BARBACK catches up with MyCare chief executive and founder Mark Jeffries about how the new home care worker matching service will work with New Zealand’s home and community support services sector.

Mark Jeffries doesn’t have to give me the hard sell on MyCare. I’m well versed in online marketplaces, sourcing my babysitters and house cleaners from such sites. It was only a matter of time before an equivalent site emerged for the home and community care market. Based on the Airbnb concept, which matches hosts with travellers, MyCare is all about matching home care workers with clients.

The site was born out of Jeffries’ growing concern of how to source home care for his elderly parents. Previously a partner at law firm Simpson Grierson, he now dedicates his time to IT start-ups. In the quest to find a solution for his personal situation, and that of his parents, MyCare was the obvious next project for Jeffries.

He gives me a demo of the site, logging onto his mother’s profile. By clicking onto where she lives, it reveals a range of home care workers to select from. Each has completed a profile specifying their expected pay range, their qualifications and experience and what sort of work they do.

Alongside each is four-tick system showing a robust verification system, including verification of telephone, email and address as well as a Ministry of Justice check.

Since going live in December last year, the site has attracted an impressive 1,200 home care workers to log on. Of 350 jobs posted, there is an average of four matches with potential workers.

Many already work for home and community care agencies, but as most agencies offer workers pay that hovers just over minimum wage and irregular hours, the site is clearly a good opportunity for workers to bridge the gaps in their employment.

“Agencies do a great job,” says Jeffries, “but the corporate model isn’t really working any more.”

A fairer wage

He says about 60 per cent of a customer’s payment for home care goes to the person carrying out the care, leaving the rest to cover overheads. Through MyCare, the worker receives a much higher percentage of the payment, making it possible for them to earn a fairer wage.

I am unsure about how a system like MyCare will work with existing funding arrangements and Jeffries agrees that he wants to firm up this aspect before really promoting the site. He says the government is “very interested”.

At present, based on a person’s needs assessment, he or she will receive funding for home care services. Such funding may come from the Ministry of Health, District Health Boards, ACC or the Ministry for Social Development, depending on the health need. These funders will then pay a home care provider to provide the service. At present each funder contracts to a small and limited number of providers – typically the large corporate players in the sector.

Jeffries is in talks with the Ministry of Health about where MyCare would fit into the mix. MyCare can be used by those who are eligible for Disability Support Services, as determined by Ministry of Health-funded Needs Assessment Service Coordination agencies (NASCs).

However, Jeffries perceives the site as a better fit for self-directed funding systems, like Australia’s consumer-directed care model. Certainly Jeffries thinks the site is better suited to New Zealand’s Individualised Funding model, which according to the Ministry “gives you increased choice and control to choose who provides this support, and how and when you use it”. Individualised Funding is available for people who are eligible for Ministry-funded Home and Community Support Services. People’s options range from engaging support workers and planning how their supports will be used, to employing their own care providers and managing all aspects of service delivery.

Through individualised funding, the end-user should be able to engage a home care worker sourced via MyCare. In this way, MyCare could be a useful tool for the smaller agencies. Jeffries sees potential for the site to be their platform and means of attracting business. The flipside of this of course is that it could be a threat to the larger agencies.

In any case, Jeffries believes funding, in whichever form it takes, provides for a very small percentage of a person’s actual care requirements.

Home and Community Health Association chief executive Julie Haggie agrees.

“I think that the development of this service reflects the desire for people and organisations to use a range of means to find the right person to support the person they care for,” she says.

“Government-funded support is gradually targeting more restorative and rehabilitative supports. People also need a range of other help, such as companionship, shopping, overnight care and social connection, and sometimes very specific support that is outside of what can be allocated.”

Haggie is supportive of the MyCare initiative.

“It is not always easy to find the right person, and matching services such as this could help with that. Also, there is a shortage of care workers across the sector. Members are keen to look at all options for matching the right person to the client.”

Mobile device access

Funding hurdles aside, the site ticks many boxes. Through their mobile devices (a mandatory requirement), home care workers can tick off each job as they do it and leave comments accordingly – effectively replacing the notebook on the side or the sticky note on the fridge, says Jeffries.

What I also like about the site is the ability to keep other people in the loop. So while siblings on the other side of the world might not need to know about the minutiae of their parent’s care, they can still be included in the general support circle. Similarly, neighbours, GPs, physios and other interested parties can be included where necessary.

Like many online marketplaces, MyCare relies on self-regulation. Pay and the terms of employment are agreed between the client and the home care worker. Clients can post a review of the worker which is then visible for other prospective clients.

With the Kaiawhina Workforce Development project happening in the backdrop, I ask Jeffries how well MyCare would adapt to the possibility of mandatory levels of training. There is a push for Level 2 to become the minimum requirement for home care workers. Jeffries says his goal is to develop online training capability on MyCare. He is currently working with Careerforce to develop a pilot that would help achieve this.

“Ideally, I would like to get Level 2 for every worker on MyCare,” says Jeffries. He would also like to have scholarships available for workers. He aims to develop a ‘Learning Centre’ on the site; there is already a ‘Safety Centre’ up and running.

Jeffries spoke about MyCare at the recent Retirement Villages Association conference – the retirement village industry is an interesting one with which to align. Some village operators view home care and community support services as a threat to their business as it keeps people in their homes longer. Others view the industries as complementary, with home care support serving to support village residents.

Regardless of which view people take, one thing is for certain – technology is set to play an increasingly important role in aged care services. MyCare is just one iteration of the sort of innovation that will have a profound effect on the way our care industries will operate in the future.

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