GENERAL MANAGER, ADVENTIST SENIOR LIVING
My aged care career started after I had my first child. I’d been working in the acute care sector and my real passion was surgical nursing, but after I had my daughter I started doing some work in aged care to give me a break from the challenges of motherhood, and I found that I just really loved working with the elderly.
I developed an enjoyment of spending time with older people from a very young age because I had a lot of elders in my family, older aunties, uncles, grandparents who I would frequently hang out with. I learnt how valuable our older generations and their interesting stories are, hearing about the amazing lives that they have lived and their contribution to our society and the world at large.
I’ve now worked in aged care for over 30 years and during that time I’ve been quite sensitive about the industry’s bad press, and developed quite a passion for talking about the good things that were happening, being part of important industry changes and having the opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of people who are at the pointy end of life. That’s what has really attracted me to this industry and has kept me here.
Throughout my career there has been constant change, but the change has been positive and provided me with opportunities for growth. That's a really good story for the industry because people don’t always value aged care as it's not particularly sexy, but it's actually a great place to work.
The opportunities available to anyone working in aged care today are vast. When I first started, there was a perception that age care was where people who were ready to retire went. I remember saying to a friend ‘you should come to work with us it’s wonderful, this is how it works and you have all these opportunities’ and she said ‘I'm not really ready for aged care yet, I have to wait till a bit later in my career’. It was like that once but it's not like that now.
Now it's an industry where you can specialise as clinicians, as nurse practitioners, clinical leaders, you can go into management, focus on residential care, home care. There are so many options and it's growing, so it’s an industry that can provide a really solid career path. But it’s also a place you can work and each day you get to make a real difference in peoples’ lives, which I think is gold.
We run new grad programs here and I always encourage our newly graduated RNS, to come and have a look at the opportunities in aged care, where practitioners get to practice their skills and develop their professional and clinical decision-making very quickly.
One of the wonderful things about aged care from a worker's perspective is that traditionally it's been very flexible so is quite a welcoming work area. For me personally, over the years I've been able to create a balance with work life and had the opportunity to do a lot of personal and professional development that's led me to where I am now.
I started working as a registered nurse on the floor and then was able to specialise in various areas doing management support until I reached the level I am now as General Manager. I’m responsible for operations across our two residential aged care facilities which support 163 residents, and one home care division.
I work with the section managers across all areas of our services, our residential care leaders, home care manager, lifestyle coordinator, hospitality and allied health, working with these clinical leaders with a focus on Clinical Excellence and continuous improvement - always looking at what opportunities we have to do things differently and get creative. Oh, and then there’s trying to balance the budget which is often the hardest part.
Across the industry as a whole I see a consistent culture where we are looking to do things better, and over the years many aged care staff have been able to bring ideas forward and contribute to continuous improvement, which I don't know think is necessarily the case in every industry.
There is also increasing professionalism in aged care. At ASL we have a strong leadership program that supports our clinical and operational leaders to help them become wise leaders. The program not only addresses technical skills, but also works on developing people’s emotional intelligence, building the capabilities to manage their teams and influence the people at the coalface in a positive way, so they can all do their best for the clients.
Our staff bring a lot of creativity and energy to the workplace, and when they are working in an environment where this is valued and encouraged it can create some really positive experiences.
Another fantastic initiative at ASL is our recognition project. People often say they don't feel thanked or recognised for the hard work they do, and staff in aged care do work very hard, so part of our culture program has been to create a movement where people recognise and congratulate each other.
With all the negativity around aged care it’s important to have vehicles through which to ‘big people up’ and make them understand that we value what they do. For example, it might be that someone took time out of their day to go and make a cappuccino for someone, maybe a client, who was struggling, or someone has been very thoughtful and caring to a staff member who is having some kind of family or personal challenge.
We share those stories with the greater team and I think it’s made a real difference not only to the working teams, but also with the residents in our care, as they feel it and can see it too.
Recently I was working with the lifestyle coordinator, and we identified that in the high care ward there are a lot of people who can't actually get out and go to the coffee shop, so they don't have the opportunity to experience something special in their day.
So we decided to set up a pop-up coffee shop once a week and invite families and staff, so they can all go for an hour have a coffee and have something to look forward to.
Our lifestyle department leader took that to her team and one of them, with the help of our residents, created this gorgeous brightly coloured coffee cart. It has made it a really fun experience and increased our socialisation and connections between our staff, our residents and our families.
Another thing that we've been doing for a number of years is our AVID Challenge. We formed a creative partnership with a local school who had students studying technology, and developed an inter-generational program where students come down with their teacher, get to know some of the residents and find out something with make a difference in those people's lives.
Then they have to go off and make their solution, and at the end of the year we have a judging. I’m never ceased to be amazed by the fantastic things that they come up with! For example hey create substantial pieces of furniture, memory quilts and the like. One team created a special table that goes over a wheelchair for a lady so she could lean over and write her Christmas cards. We won a Better Practice Award for that, and the program brings great benefit to the residents and their families who get a great deal of enjoyment out of it.
Anyone working in aged care definitely needs compassion, patience and strong emotional intelligence so they can embrace flexibility, adapt to change and advocate for their residents, because the nurses are the people who are with them day in day out, as are catering staff and even the cleaning staff.
Being able to see things objectively is also a useful skill, allowing you to see what may appear to be an obstacle as a potential opportunity dressed up as a difficult thing. Equally having the capacity to listen more and talk less is always a good skill to have, as is the ability to laugh and have a sense of humour.