Alpine Health is a multi-purpose service provider that offers a full range of health, aged care and community support services for people who live in the Alpine Shire. With three sites in the towns of Bright, Mount Beauty and Myrtleford, Alpine’s goal is to provide and improve integrated and sustainable health services for residents.
The organisation was established in November 1996 after the amalgamation of three rural hospitals, nursing homes, hostels and accommodation units. The formation of the Alpine Health Group began in 1995 following investigation by the Bright, Myrtleford, Mount Beauty and Beechworth communities into the concept of a formal merger of their rural hospitals.
Prior to merging, the individual organisations were all providing health services in the Alpine Shire over the last 40 years, but were facing the prospective of closure due to changes in government funding structures and low patient turnover. “They were all small and struggling to manage within the new case-mix funding mechanisms that were being put into place,” says Lyndon Seys, CEO of Alpine Health.
The decision to amalgamate was made by the organisations to reduce operating costs and consolidate a workforce to better drive the improvement of health services. The organisations also wanted to take advantage of the Commonwealth State Development program for small rural communities, which gave more flexibility to local health services to meet the needs of the people.
The Alpine Health Multi-Purpose Service was officially established on Nov. 1, 1996. “It was called then – and it is still called today – the Multi-Purpose Service program,” says Lyndon. “The amalgamating organisations not only wanted to improve their capacity to deliver better services, but they wanted improve their capacity to deliver services more targeted to people’s needs.”
CEO Lyndon Seys was appointed CEO of the group in March 1999, after a period where the organisation struggled financially and structurally. He has been with them ever since, and credits his longevity to a couple of reasons. The first is because their Multi-Purpose Service is a model of service delivery that works for local communities, enabling Alpine Health to address services directly to the needs of individuals. “As a consequence, the organisation is highly relevant to the lives of every individual out here and that’s a joy to work in,” he says.
The other reason Lyndon has been happy to stay aboard is the challenge. Alpine Health’s capabilities are wide-ranging, and go from acute hospital patient care, to low and high care and residential aged care, plus a vast range of community services that are relevant to what people look for and need. “There’s an exciting challenge here professionally, not only for me, but for everyone who works in the organisation,” he says. “It is a great place to be professionally.”
“And on a personal level, the Alpine Shire has got to be one of the most beautiful places in the world, and certainly in Australia.”
Since their amalgamation, Alpine Health has worked hard to keep up with the demands of an evolving industry. “With acute hospital care, as an example, the average length of stay for hospital care has dropped quite significantly over the last 10 to 20 years as new technologies and new ways of providing acute hospital services have been put into place,” he says. “Everything has become better and easier to do.”
The health of the rural population has improved in general. As a small rural hospital, Alpine is less engaged in high level acute hospital service delivery, such as surgery, and more configured to meet the needs of people with chronic illness. “Medical specialities have become much more refined, and a lot of the work that was done in small country hospitals, like appendectomies and hysterectomies, isn’t done much anymore. Those issues are now being dealt with in a different way.”
The same evolution rings true with their aged care service delivery, Lyndon says. Over the last 10 years, Alpine has been able to bring their aged care service delivery directly into the community. “Roughly 40 per cent of all aged care services are now delivered in the community and as a consequence of that and demographic change, the demand for local residential care is on the decline.”
All about flexibility
What helps set Alpine Health apart in the healthcare marketplace, simply put, is their flexibility. They host a broad range of services to meet all their residents’ and clients’ needs, whatever they may be – and an agreement between the state and the commonwealth allows them to allocate their revenue in whatever way best meets their community’s needs.
“We can shift money around to where people are, rather than say, ‘We only get money for residential aged care and that is the only option available for you, or we only get money for hospital care and that is the only option for you.’ That is real flexibility – the capacity to shift money around to what people need.”
Alpine Health also sets themselves apart with the calibre of their staff – who they do well in retaining, especially compared to many organisations in larger communities in the industry. “Our turnover is very small every year, less than two per cent,” Lyndon says.
Lyndon at least partly credits their retention to the fact that the company recognises that their workforce needs to change and evolve to keep up with community needs. As a result, Alpine Health invests a “great deal of resources in training and organisational development,” he says. “That helps keep our workforce to keep their skills up, and it helps us to retain them too. We invest seriously in training and running training programs every week.”
Another reason Alpine Health has been able to retain staff is through the close relationships they foster with them in each service delivery location. “Everything is incredibly close,” Lyndon says. “The culture of the organisation is built around the principle of providing services where people are, in accordance with their expectations.”
“We do our best to have that reflected in the flexibility of our workforce,” he adds. “We empower them to be able to meet the needs the people in front of them.”
When Alpine aims to add a new member to their staff, they look for someone that wants to live and work in a rural environment, and understands the challenges they’re going to be confronted with day-to-day. They also look for someone with the right skills and background. “The kind of model of service we have is completely different from the great big metropolitan urban hospitals,” Lyndon says. “Our team must understand the close relationship between themselves as staff members and the community they’re going to be working in and for.”
“We don’t need high numbers of specialists, we need a high number of generalists – people with skills across a whole range of needs in a single place.”
Moving forward, Alpine Health will continue to recruit and maintain high quality people, and will continue to improve all of their many services. In particular, Lyndon says they will be focusing on their approach to community aged care. He believes that their Multi-Purpose Service program is what community healthcare in Australia should look like.
“It is the right solution for the economic, financial, clinical and service issues that are confronting small communities today,” he says. “Many people see this as a great model for securing high quality health services for small rural and remote communities in Australia.”