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A helping hand.

DutchCare is a community-based organisation that focuses on providing all levels of aged care services to the Dutch community. Their dedication to care – combined with their growth and financial stability – enables elders to live a lifestyle that is comfortable, enjoyable, dignified and meaningful.

DutchCare was established by the Associated Netherlands Societies in Victoria in 1971 after a study entitled “What later.”  By the early 1990s, there were five organisations delivering care to the Dutch community in Victoria.  Three merged in 1996 to form DutchCare, which made it a strong player in the aged care sector and helped it to become part of a pilot program for ethnic communities.

Before CEO Petra Neeleman joined the organisation in 1991, she was a board member of Holland Australian Retirement Foundation, Inc. for five years and was involved in the building of the first Dutch Retirement Village in Montrose.

When she first joined the group, she was just happy being a board member and wasn’t looking to take a higher position. At the time, she was getting her accounting degree and originally wanted to become a tax accountant. But things changed suddenly during her practical year of study and she was thrust into the role as CEO, Petra explains.

“The board of directors said, ‘It’s meant to be. You’re going to be the CEO.’ With nowhere else to go, I got the role,” she says. “The rest is history, as we say here.”

Over the years, DutchCare’s has evolved significantly, and Petra has evolved along with it. “I have a great board of people who are committed to the organisation and want the very best in care for Dutch elders. Life just keeps growing and getting better and the role I did 20 years ago is very different than the role I’m doing now,” she says.

Today, DutchCare provides services to English-speaking residents and six ethnic groups – Polish, Italian, German, Spanish, Indonesian and Dutch. They have applied for a significant number of consumer-directed-care (CDC) packages in order to offer affordable care to more.

“We’re now providing multicultural services since the board is happy with that direction and we are strongly supported by our directors,” Petra says.

Quality care

DutchCare has a well-established reputation for providing quality care to their residents, who come from ethnically and linguistically-diverse backgrounds. This diversity helps set the organisation apart from other aged care providers. “We’re known as one of the leaders in that field within Australia,”Petra says.

DutchCare currently employs 320 staff, all of whom they enjoy a positive relationship with. More than half of their employees have been with the company at least seven years or longer, and everybody is valued tremendously by the organisation. “We recognise that the staff that work with the elders are the people who make the biggest difference, not the managers,” Petra says. “You pull a care worker off the floor for an hour and they’re missed tremendously.”

She defines their corporate culture as an adhocracy, not a bureaucracy.  “We’re not the decision-makers,” she says. “There are times we have to make adhoc decisions, but the decision-makers are the elders, the residents, the clients and those who work closely with them. They make the day-to-day decisions.”

The team at DutchCare, Petra explains, is made up of caregivers that are enthusiastic and want to make a difference. They are all encouraged to form meaningful relationships with the residents, so they can best learn what they need and want. “We care better when we know and like someone,” Petra says. “And all our staff know that they have made a difference in the life of an elder.”

Equally as important as the staff at DutchCare are their volunteers – most of whom are, not surprisingly, Dutch. “They make the difference day-to-day, every day,” Petra explains. “They reduce our workload and bring great friendships to the residents. They share a coffee with them and reminisce about what life was like for them. That’s what draws people to this organisation – that shared culture dynamic.”

Centralised data

Another aspect of DutchCare that sets them apart is their commitment to keeping up with the latest trends in technology. For example, they have a centralised data system that allows everyone to work from the same hub using the most current information, which effectively eliminates any out-of-date information from being handled and shared.

“The use of servers with the correct set-up means that data can be can be accessed from anywhere that staff has Internet access. You do not need to be on-site to be able to access required client information or business data,” says the Manager of IT Services at DutchCare. Jamie adds that with a laptop and a printer, a staff member can give clients information and documents while they are visiting them.

Residents also have access to a 24/7 Tunstall phone monitoring service in case of an emergency. It is provided to those who live on their own or who need that “piece of mind knowing that help is just a push of button away,” Jamie explains. “When needed, Tunstall has a range of additional devices such as movement detectors that can be installed to add more monitoring options.”

If playing interactive games is something residents are interested in, they may also take advantage of their IN2L project – a portable touchscreen computer on a trolley that can be taken from room-to-room for residents to interact with. “They can play games like flying and car racing on the steering wheel and joystick, or sing karaoke and play card games and bingo – which seems to be the all-time favourite,” he says.

DutchCare is also equipped with the fastest wireless Internet connections, so residents can stay in touch with family and friends both here and afar. “We received two computers for our two main locations to allow seniors in the local community who do not have a computer to come in and use one and receive training on basic skills if they choose to,” he says, adding that DutchCare was one of the first in Australia to adopt this technology.

Independent living

Recently, DutchCare gained approval for the construction of 40 additional independent living apartments. The construction of those units will commence later this year with completion set for early 2015.  “We see more and more of our market is developing in that apartment-type living,” Petra says.

Looking ahead to the longer term, Petra reiterates that they are looking to provide more CDC packages to the communities they serve.The challenge there, however, is efficiency. As more elders stay in their own homes, it becomes expensive and time-consuming to send staff from one “elder’s home to the next.”

That’s why DutchCare has started to focus on apartment-style independent living units, Petra explains – they give residents freedom and flexibility, while still being efficient to service.

“By moving more towards apartment living, we can centralize that care and people can remain in control of their own homes. It’s one of the solutions.”