BASS Care (Boroondara Aged Services Society) began its life in 1956 as the Canterbury Citizens Welfare Committee – an incorporated community organisation committed to serving senior citizens throughout the municipality of Camberwell, Victoria. “It’s an interesting history,” CEO David Cotter says. “Rupert Hamer was one of a group of civic minded individuals who founded the organisation in 1956. He went on to become a Victorian politician and State Premier.”
The original Committee was formed following recognition by community members that the elderly within the community who were not part of a mainstream church’s purview were often socially overlooked and potentially isolated. If they required some assistance, they risked – in many ways – “falling through the cracks.” “Hamer realized the church community was only looking after who those they knew, yet were unaware of the needs of those they didn’t know,” Cotter says.
In 2001, Canterbury Citizens Welfare Committee merged with North Balwyn Citizens Welfare Association to form BASS Care.
Today, BASS Care operates an integrated program of services including residential care facilities, respite care, dementia specific services and an extensive community care program that provides care and support to older people or those with disabilities who wish to continue living in their own homes.
The organisation serves about 1,000 clients a month across its range of services. Of that total, 160 are in residential care, 100 in independent living units and nearly 300 are served by meals on wheels. Their dementia daycare serves another 55 clients and the rest are supported through social support activities.
BASS Care is committed to its mission of caring for its clients, irrespective of their financial, religious or cultural status. This is what attracted Cotter to the organisation in late 1998 after previously working in aged care in Gippsland Victoria. “I was attracted by the fact BASS Care was an independent not-for-profit organisation which had a broad range of services for a community-based organisation,” he says.
Since joining BASS Care Cotter has observed much change in the aged care industry in the last decade. BASS Care has adapted by being both proactive and “rolling with the punches,” responding to the ever changing needs and expectations of the community. “I believe that this change will continue significantly. There will be an increase in the diversity of services,” Cotter says. “All communities, seniors included, are going to become increasingly consumer-focused and aware of what they want. This is in contrast to the historic situation where a given service is provided and clients essentially had to fit in.”
BASS Care is increasing the services they provide to the community in an effort to assist people to remain at home longer. Its services have been focused on the social aspect of remaining at home and addressing issues related to isolation. “In community care, it’s not so much about looking at it from a medical health-care point of view; it’s about looking after a client’s global needs as they are often physically isolated within their own home. Recently BASS Care developed an in-home nursing and support service, a fledgling business at this stage, having started in late February 2012,” Cotter says.
“It’s about providing assistance with all personal care needs,” he explains. “Providing nursing plus domestic assistance for people at home – doing things like cleaning, gardening and taking out the garbage. Hopefully, that will prove to be a service that enables clients to remain comfortably at home for longer.”
What makes BASS Care unique and stand out from other aged care organisations is that it is a medium sized company providing a range of services via a community-based, not-for-profit philosophy – it’s not linked to any large infrastructure, such as a corporate investor or church group. “While faith based groups are essentially non-denominational in delivery of service, their underpinning is faith-based. BASS Care is strictly non-denominational, humanistic in its decision making from the Board down,” Cotter explains.
Culture of care
At BASS Care, having a good corporate culture is just as important as the services they provide. The company has excellent staff retention, and a culture that can be described as fairly egalitarian, informal and low on structure. “Obviously we have a structure, we need to, but it’s certainly not hierarchical. From a textbook perspective, it would be defined as a flat- semi formal organisation,” he says.
The company’s culture focuses on the delivery of the service. Cotter says the financing comes as a result of that. “If we get the planning, the personnel and the service right, the statistics and the finances will follow,” he says.
Cotter adds, “We have well-below industry average sick leave and well-above industry average staff retention. We have a great team – from the voluntary board of directors, the volunteers, all the way to the staff delivering the service to the clients. And the client-service interface is what it’s all about.”
BASS Care employs about 250 staff and another 300 volunteers, all of whom are vital to the organisation. “Some of our programs quite simply would not exist if not for the volunteers. They are vital to the organisation and just as important as any other component of the organisation,” Cotter says.
When looking to recruit staff, BASS Care seeks someone they feel could relate to people, someone who is going to be flexible and someone who gets things done because every day is different. They want someone they feel would be a good fit for the organisation culturally. “Most days don’t turn out as you intend, particularly when you’re dealing with people. Our service is all about dealing with people,” he says.
BASS Care’s main challenge as an organisation is responding to the changing outlook of the entire aged care industry. As the industry is required to focus more and more on providing compliant care, BASS Care has to work hard to remain consumer-focused rather than regulation focused.
“The industry is very highly regulated. At times care or the service can be focused on being compliant, rather than being what the client wants. Sometimes what the individual wants is not aligned with what the government requires to be delivered,” Cotter explains. BASS Care constantly reminds itself to remain client and not regulation-focused because that’s its charter and what is expected from the clients. Cotter is quick to add that most of the time the two requirements are compatible.
Another common challenge for aged care organisations is staffing – it can be difficult to keep the turnover low and the retention high. “Income in this sector is poor resulting in pay rates for the entire sector being poor. It’s difficult to attract staff,” Cotter says. “The more we’ve looked at some of the issues with staffing the more apparent it becomes that the single major root cause is lack of funds.”
To overcome this challenge, Cotter says they do their best to create a positive corporate culture and to empower and value their staff.
As for what’s next for BASS Care, they’ve just completed building an additional 60 rooms in their residential services. The company is also planning to build a boutique retirement village, with construction expected to start either late 2012 or early 2013. “There are certainly developments on the horizon. One is just coming to completion and another one will commence in a few months time. We’re fine-tuning the plans at this stage,” Cotter says.
Looking further ahead, BASS Care will continue to deliver the broad range of services they do now, while providing more flexibility to people in the community. Their aim is to provide a support structure with a “real focus on looking after people’s global needs,” Cotter says. “I would also like to see BASS Care being able to contribute significantly to the provision of the services an ageing population will require.”
Cotter adds that their goals will be better achieved through achieving scale via a merger or acquisition, something he hopes will occur in the near future. “We’re always looking at ways to grow. The board is open-minded about the future and ways to ensure there remains a non denominational presence in another 50 years time,” he says.