Echuca Community for the Aged (ECA) is a community-owned, not-for-profit organisation providing ageing in place care and independent living for elderly members of the Echuca/Moama community and surrounding districts. They take a genuine local approach to the provision of their services, and their facilities allow residents to continue leading dignified and independent lives close to their families and friends.
Founded originally as the Echuca Ladies’ Benevolent Society in 1878, ECA was originally tasked with taking care of the homeless and underprivileged in the community. In 1972, Echuca Benevolent Society Inc. opened what was to become a 60-bed nursing home facility on land purchased from Echuca hospital. That facility became known as Engelbert Lodge.
“Engelbert Lodge operated until residents were moved out to our 92 bed residential accommodation facility – Wharparilla Lodge – in 2009,” says CEO Colin Price.
That greenfield site, known as Cunningham Downs, was purchased in the early 2000s. It is eight hectares, and located on the western fringe of Echuca – a town of some 13,000 residents on the Murray River approximately 220 kilometres north of Melbourne. ECA used the site to develop Wharparilla Lodge, a 92-bed accommodation facility surrounded by 79 two and three-bedroom independent living units and 14 single bedroom assisted accommodation units – “Brolga Apartments.” The whole complex was completed in 2009.
Tracie Pearson serves as the Director of Nursing Care at ECA, having been in her current position for three years and with the organisation at large for seven. Tracie is also a very experienced nurse with a background in vocational training – an aspect that has helped her in developing and nurturing the team of nurses and care workers she manages. The focus of ECA in developing its staff was a key factor in her decision to initially join the organisation.
“Coming in as a visitor to this organisation, I was impressed by all the different things they were doing,” she says. “I was looking at residential aged care and then an opportunity came up at Engelbert Lodge and I thought, `That job has my name on it.’”
It is an important part of the culture of the ECA organisation that it is a “not-for-profit” and a community-run organisation. The Board of Management consists entirely of local people who have a diverse range of backgrounds and skills. “They all share, however, a special passion for giving something back to the community of Echuca,” Price says.
ECA currently employs approximately 120 staff with a full time equivalent of 80. There is also a team of some-60 ongoing volunteers, who assist with a wide-range of their programs and activities. When hiring new staff, the organisation looks for those that have a genuine interest in caring for others. They identify those who will treat the residents with dignity and respect; and people who have a commitment to self-development, Pearson says.
“There is a real community focus in the organisation, a real sense that our staff do regard this as people’s homes,” says Price. “They treat them with respect and care. It really is something special about the people that make up the organisation. It’s quite extraordinary to see these people and the way they interact with the residents.”
When ECA purchased the Cunningham Downs site, the organisation carried out fundraising in the community. They were told to aim for $6 – 700,000, but ECA ended up raising $1.5 million. “The culture of generosity flows through from the whole community of Echuca/Moama through to our organisation, our board, and through our staff. We’re a very proud of that,” Price says.
Another way ECA stands apart is through their use of technology – an increasingly valuable tool in the aged care industry, and one ECA has embraced with open arms. About five or six years ago, they successfully implemented and computerised their residential care system to provide management with an advantage. They are also in the process of implementing a Rostering system, Pearson says.
Finally, ECA is set apart in the marketplace by the quality of their complex. Price credits that quality to the architects and designers of Brown Falconer, an Adelaide based company. “Together with my predecessor – Stan Barker – Brown Falconer designed a facility that looks and feels comfortable and is a very pleasant place to live and work. My feeling, talking with the staff, is there is a real sense that the building ‘just works’ and that really makes a huge difference to people in their living and working environment,” he says.
“It really has a lovely ambience to it. It is very pleasing to watch the reaction from people when they come in to our facility – even people who’ve been to a lot of aged care centres,” he adds.
A new beginning
Price believes that the Echuca/Moama region is poised to become a major destination for the growing number of retirees. “The climate is great and we are well located in relation to Melbourne and the major regional centres of Bendigo and Shepparton but what will really make a difference is in 2015 when a $70 million refurbishment to the Echuca Hospital is completed.”
“We already have first class recreational facilities just over the river with the Moama Bowling Club and Rich River Golf Club, so with first class health and aged care facilities the region offers the ‘full package’ to retirees.”
“I firmly believe”, Price continues, “that the retirement and aged care industries are going to be a major player in the economic development of the Echuca/Moama region for the next 10 to 20 years.”
ECA is very fortunate to be able to be a major player in this process thanks to a very generous donation of the adjoining 15 hectares of farm land from the McSwain family. “Some six hectares will remain as bush land, set aside for recreational facilities, but there will be another nine hectares on which we can build which will enable us to more than double the size of Cunningham Downs over the next decade or so,” Price says.
ECA is also in the process of adding 14 new two-bedroom units to the original site leased to the Echuca Benevolent Society by the crown lands department in 1882. “Illoura Village is adjacent to the Echuca hospital and located close to the main town shopping centre of Echuca and in one of the town’s premier residential streets,” Price says. “It’s an ideal location for retirement living. We’re expecting that to be a very successful development as well.”