Nambucca Valley Care Ltd (NVC) is a community, non-profit aged care organisation that exists for one simple purpose: to serve the needs of others. Their service ranges from providing self care units to low care and high car residential services. With every person they serve, they aim to promote and support the best quality of life possible.
This extraordinary aim can be traced all the way back to the organisation’s beginnings in 1978, where it began as Autumn Lodge Nursing Home following considerable work and fundraising by members of the local community. The residential aged care service offered by Autumn Lodge grew over the years, and now offers 61 low care places and 51 high care places, as well as a secure dementia unit.
In 1993, NVC expanded their service by introducing Riverside Gardens, a modern 40-place low care facility at Nambucca Heads. In the years since, Riverside Gardens has evolved to match Autumn Lodge, providing a mix of low care, self care and high care residential accommodation units.
Executive Care Manager Jenny Zirkler joined the organisation in August 2010, after previously working at the local hospital. She joined NVC because of her interest in aged care, and because of her frustration with the public health system. “With the way things were going, I wasn’t going to be as influential as I’d like to be,” she says. “There’s not many jobs where your job is to make people happy.”
What makes NVC stand head and shoulders above other retirement living operators and aged care residences is the quality of their care. They are doing innovative things to provide better quality and more variety of services to their clientele. For example, they offer trial shifts and training for their care staff. “I had some of my staff become enrolled nurses. I supported them to upgrade their skills,” Zirkler says. “Some of them have become certified full-time staff. We’ve created an extra leadership role for those staff.”
NVC also offers a new graduate program for their registered nurses. They’re doing that in collaboration with the area health service – allowing them to work between the hospital, aged care and community health services. “We’ve got three doing that this year. That’s a grad initiative,” Zirkler says. “We do a full intensive one-week orientation where we focus on the skills we think a beginner practitioner would need around professional development and leadership.”
NVC currently has about 210 staff. When hiring, the organisation looks for several qualities in a potential candidate – including the right attitude. “We say to staff, ‘We’re working in our resident’s home, we’re guests. It’s not being done in our workplace. They’re sitting in their home,’” she says. “So we have to have the right attitude and respect them and treat them with dignity.”
Like other aged care facilities, NVC promotes the use of technology. They have Internet kiosks on site for residents to use. Programs such as Skype are available to allow residents to stay in touch with their family, “No matter where they are in the world,” Zirkler says.
One of the main challenges for any aged care facility is retaining staff. NVC’s focus on training has helped them in that arena. Their new graduate program provides staff with a multitude of skills in different areas, which keeps their staff retention high. “We’re looking at running a second program and will probably run two of those a year – one at the beginning and one at the end of the year because a lot of our interns finish at mid-term,” she says.
Government regulations and restrictions, which are ever-tightening, frequently pose a challenge to organisations in the aged care industry as well. NVC is no exception, and they’ve taken a risk-management approach to dealing with restrictions, Zirkler says. “You’ve got to be very careful that you don’t restrict people so much that they’re overwhelmed and they take a few risks on their own,” she says.
Another challenge arises from the high expectations of care that come from residents and their families. Every three months NVC conducts conferences with residents, registered nurses and care and activity staff to ensure residents, as well as their family members, are satisfied. “I think that’s been very good – talking about the expectations, what we can do and what we can’t do,” Zirkler says. “I think that probably has produced a lot of the satisfaction. They’re quite involved.”
One of the things currently on the go at NVC is a General Practise (GP) helpline, which will be utilized mostly on weekends. This will ensure someone is made available for those needing assistance. “That should improve the care for our residents,” she says.
They also want to maximise the use of their other programs, such as their day therapy program. Moving forward, that will be expanding to involve more of the community. “We’re breaking down the barriers between the community and residential care,” Zirkler says. “We’re still finding that a lot of people don’t really know residential care until they’re faced with it. We’re trying to encourage our residents to keep the community ties going.”
With additional space available at their Macksville site, NVC is interested in building a new facility in the near future. As far as a long term vision goes, Zirkler sees NVC establishing themselves as an aged care provider of choice, with a team of professional and qualified staff who enjoy being part of NVC, and a roster of residents who enjoy it even more.
The key to achieving that vision, she says, is by focusing on individuals. Every person serviced by NVC should feel valued. That’s an attitude Zirkler will continue to cement in the staff. “We’re working on the person-centred approach so the residents are getting individual care that they need,” she says. “We would like to see them focused on the person, not just the task.”