Bethany Christian Care is a not-for-profit aged care provider and retirement village operator which has been committed to quality Christian care for over 60 years. In all its facilities, the goal is to maintain a special, caring atmosphere which reflects the love of Christ.
“A distinctive feature of our organisation – and its reason for being – is an emphasis on Christian and spiritual outcomes,” explains Bruce Curtis, CEO of Bethany Christian Care. “That’s basically characterised our organisation since its inception in 1949. We’re striving to maintain that emphasis, even though, these days, it might be seen as somewhat quaint.”
Bethany Christian Care began its life as Bethany Aged Christians’ Home on the Brisbane River at Norman Park, having been inaugurated by Christians from various Christian brethren assemblies in the Brisbane area. The original Norman Park site (called, in latter times, Bethany Riverside Village) was sold in 2003, following which, in 2006, the entire operation moved to The Plains Retirement Village, a new complex conveniently situated in the southern suburb of Eight Mile Plains.
In 1990, Bethany Christian Care established its second site, JanoahGardensRetirementVillage, at Manly West. That village, which was developed in stages, provides independent living units, serviced apartments and an aged care facility – the whole gamut of elderly accommodations.
BethEdenRiversideVillage, the group’s third site, was acquired by Bethany Christian Care near the end of 2003. Located at Graceville, Beth Eden also comprises both independent living units and an aged care facility.
The Plains, Bethany’s newest and largest complex, consists of independent living units, serviced apartments, and a premium aged care facility. Across its whole operation, Bethany Christian Care is fairly evenly split between “aged care” places and “retirement village” units or apartments, with 213 of the former and 227 of the latter.
“We’re very fortunate in terms of our aged care facilities in having a large facility, a medium-sized facility, and a small facility,” says Curtis. “We have a new village, a fully-established village, and an older one – but, in the case of the latter, this shouldn’t be seen as a negative, because it has a beautiful 1888 heritage-listed building as its centrepiece.”
Bethany Christian Care’s sites also vary in affordability. Residents on a budget can find nicely-presented accommodation at its oldest facility, whereas those seeking five-star accommodations are likely to be attracted to its newest complex, with the final facility fitting in between the two. “It’s a neat situation to be in, to be able to offer the spectrum of affordability and accommodation types,” Curtis says.
Curtis has been Bethany Christian Care’s CEO for 16 years, before which he served on the group’s Board of Directors. Prior to joining Bethany Christian Care, he worked in the public sector, including a decade-long stint on the personal staff of a number of government Ministers in Queensland, the last three years of which as Private Secretary to the Minister for Justice.
“I felt the experience, knowledge and skills I gained in that era equipped me for my CEO role at Bethany,” he says. “And I was attracted to the role because I thought I could contribute to the spiritual outcomes which are so dear to the organisation.”
Since taking up his position as CEO in 1996, Curtis has observed dramatic changes in the aged care industry. He says Bethany Christian Care has not been immune to those changes. “It’s changed out of sight, and aged care has changed out of sight,” he says. “There is now a highly-intensive regulatory environment, with quality assurance standards mandated by legislation.”
“All of this has been good for aged care, and good for Bethany Christian Care,” he continues. “It’s brought in systems and processes designed to achieve consistency and quality of care and services. Continuous quality improvement is our preoccupation these days, and that’s good for our customers.”
Love and compassion
Altogether, Bethany Christian Care employs 220 staff. A challenge throughout the aged care sector is recruiting and retaining skilled workers, but Curtis says Bethany has performed reasonably well in that arena. A recent Enterprise Bargaining Agreement t has lifted employment conditions.
“We aim to be an employer of choice, and we’re well on the way to achieving that,” he says. “We are a ‘learning and improving’ organisation, and that’s the sort of culture we try to promote. We emphasise to our people that everyone is on this ‘learning and improving’ journey.”
“Underpinning it all, however, is a desire that staff help us fulfil our mission – not just by what they do, but how they do it – which is to reach out to residents, staff and relatives with the love of Christ,” Curtis adds. “We have an emphasis on staff being able to work within that philosophy, in order to achieve the outcomes of our ministry.”
Unlike most providers, Bethany Christian Care does not see itself merely as a business. “We see ourselves as a ministry where the business supports the ministry,” Curtis explains. “Excellence in the ministry side is the primary goal, but that can’t be achieved without excellence in all business aspects.”
“We have a saying, and it’s become a mantra of our organisation: ‘Care delivered the Bethany way, with love and compassion.’”
A new paradigm
For Bethany Christian Care, the future is exciting. The aged care reform package announced by the Gillard government has ushered in what Curtis calls “a new paradigm.” Bethany Christian Care plans on responding to both the demands and opportunities of the new paradigm, of which expanded community care services is a key focus.
For Bethany Christian Care, the advent of community care services within its villages (and perhaps to the wider community) will add new meaning to the term “ageing-in-place”. Bethany already provides a continuum of care due to the ability of residents to move from “independent living” to “aged care”, but Curtis says people increasingly want to remain in their home for as long as possible.
“In our context, this means that residents of our retirement villages will be able to stay longer in their independent living units, supported by Bethany-provided care services,” Curtis says, explaining how Bethany aims to operate moving forward. “This in-unit care will avoid or delay a move to residential aged care. Instead of being the first point of resort, residential care will increasingly become a last point of resort.”
The future is also likely to see Bethany Christian Care grow. Currently, there are plans to expand to the outer southwest of Brisbane, at South Redbank Plains, where the organisation already owns land. There they will look at the possible development of a retirement village first, and later – when demographics indicate demand – an aged care facility.
“The beauty of this particular proposal is its co-location with an established Christian school,” Curtis says. “Given the well-known value of interaction between older people and children, this development would benefit both the school and its children and the retirement village / aged care facility and its residents.”
Beyond that, Curtis says opportunities will be considered as they arise, although the immediate priority is to consolidate and shore up the organisation’s capacity to meet industry challenges such as workforce issues, the increasingly-rigorous regulatory environment, and rising consumer expectations.
“If, in the future, God leads us to grow our services and deliver our brand of care to a greater number of people through expansion,” he concludes, “we feel we will be well-positioned to do so. We thank God for our position of relative strength at the moment.”