Christian Brethren Community Services (CBCS) is a not-for-profit organisation specialising in the provision of accommodation and care for the aged. Established in 1976 by a group of people from NSW Christian Brethren churches – also known as the ‘Open Brethren’ – the organisation has developed from providing one retirement village in Pennant Hills to being a small, but growing niche provider of quality services and accommodation.
“We’ve grown quite significantly, but we’re still not a large provider as far as the aged care industry is concerned,” says CEO Peter Mackie. “But we’ve got three sites and we’re continuing to grow.”
The organisation started off in 1976 with just a small number of independent living units. Then in 1980, they built a hostel called Yurana House. “It then grew to be a 50-bed hostel, and at the same time the independent living units were growing as well,” Mackie says.
The earliest roots of CBCS can be traced back even further – all the way to 1949, when a sister organisation established a nursing home at Hurlstone Park in the southwest of Sydney. By the late-1990s, that home was becoming an old building that needed too much work to be economically viable. “The decision was made to transfer the licenses to what was Pennant Hills. About that time Council changed the boundary to the other side of the road so it became Cherrybrook,” Mackie says.
In 1999, the Bethshean Nursing Home opened up at Cherrybrook with 50 beds on the same site as the hostel, Yurana House. “In 2007, we moved to combine those two into one facility, which is called Cherrybrook Christian Care Centre,” he says. “It’s a 110-bed aged care facility now. Around the same site, we have the Elouera Gardens Christian Retirement Village – 72 independent living units in a mixture of villas and apartments.”
In 2007, CBCS opened up Carinya House – a 60-bed ageing-in-place residential care facility at Glenhaven – about 15 minutes away from the Cherrybrook facility. They later continued their growth in 2010. “Ten years to the day from the first meeting I had about establishing this facility, we opened Groves House at Cardiff Heights in the Newcastle area,” Mackie says. “It’s another 60-bed ageing-in-place facility.”
Like Carinya House, Groves House provides low care and dementia care, allowing clients to age-in-place without changing residences as their care needs change. The home offers residents a picturesque view across the valley to the mountains in the north.
Mackie’s career in CBCS started near the beginning of that expansion, and he has been with the organisation for 15 years. He started his professional career in hospital administration and spent five years as chief executive of two different public hospitals in New South Wales. He later spent time managing a private hospital and then working with IBM Australia and Atwork International – marketing to the health care industry – before joining CBCS.
“When this job came up, initially it was just to manage the retirement village at Cherrybrook, but when I got into it I could see that there was a need for us to grow in order to remain as a viable organisation,” Mackie says. “We had to grow and so I kept saying to my Board, ‘We either grow or we go.’”
As a member of a Christian Brethren church, Mackie was presented with the opportunity to bring his professionalism to the organisation, which was “much-needed,” he says. His background in health care industries helped him match the required needs of aged care. “As a professional manager, it all fits with me and it also comes back to a professional philosophy of being there to care for people.”
CBCS’s motto of “Christ’s love compels us,” makes them a good organisation for residents. That focus and commitment sets them apart from other aged care providers, and means they never lose sight of the fact that they’re here to serve the people. “We see that as a driving force. When I talk to any staff, I remind them of our saying: ‘People don’t live our facilities; we work in their homes,’” Mackie says.
Mackie believes the company’s almost 200 staff members have a very high level of morale, which is driven by their values and represents an area of excellence for CBCS. “We say the more business-like we are, the more charitable we can afford to be. That’s the approach that I’ve taken in the 15 years I’ve been here,” he says. “It’s bringing as much professionalism as we can so that we can afford to be charitable to those who can’t necessarily afford all the services they deserve.”
When they hire a new staff member, CBCS looks for those who have empathy and care about people. “Most of the people here don’t see it as just a job; they see it as being able to serve others,” Mackie says.
In terms of retaining staff, CBCS has been “very blessed” – unlike many aged care organisations. “Our turnover rates are reasonably low,” Mackie says. “They’re certainly lower than the average for the aged care industry. We work quite hard at maintaining that morale and we seem to be successful in that area.”
CBCS has made good use of technology in the execution of their services. For example, they use Seniors Living Solution from Epicor for service management and the iCare resident care software. “We recently introduced a new rostering system for our staff called RosterLive and a new payroll system called Attaché,” he says.
The organisation is pleased with the way it meets customer expectations through providing quality care and accommodation for residents – but they’re always looking to improve. Recently, CBCS launched a new $6 million project to do a major extension and upgrade of the Cherrybrook Christian Care Centre, replacing about 30 rooms with larger-sized rooms of higher quality.
Changes in government regulations and funding have posed a challenge to the aged care industry – recent reforms have indicated the focus is shifting more towards community care, away from residential care.
“Because we are predominately residential care, we have to look at our business plan for the future as to whether we should be looking to try to have a greater emphasis on community care,” Mackie says. “We’re very uncertain about the future for us, particularly in relation to the changes to capital funding. It’s making it difficult for us.”
Despite the changes, Mackie says the plan moving forward is to continue growing. The organisation recently acquired two independent living villages, which were both owned previously by their sister organisation – Stewards’ Foundation of Christian Brethren. “The best way to provide the services is in one organisation rather than two,” he says. “In both cases, the villages are adjacent to the residential care facilities at Glenhaven and Cardiff Heights.”
That proximity is important. According to Mackie, the long-term future for CBCS is in providing a continuum of care – independent living units with services available, to low care and then high care facilities, all in one location. “As far as the number of villages, we don’t think three is enough to continue to be financially viable,” he says. “We expect there will be some more growth over the next few years that will take us to four or five comprehensive villages.”