St Ann’s Homes is one of Tasmania’s premier aged care organisations. Their two aged care residences are purpose built, modern, bright, comfortable, and offer excellent standards of quality and accommodation. Between both campuses, they provide care to over 200 aged people. St Ann’s provides generously sized rooms, a number of leisure and lifestyle programs, and is staffed by a highly skilled, professional, and friendly workforce.
Looking back, the story of St Ann’s is closely connected to the story of local historical icon Princess Melikoff. “She’s someone who captures the imagination of Hobartons in particular, because – like Princess Mary of Denmark – she was a commoner who married a European prince,” explains Susan Parr, CEO of the company.
Princess Melikoff was born Pauline Curran, whose life story received attention when, on a visit to Great Britain, she met and fell in love with a Russian aristocrat. She married that aristocrat, known as Captain Prince Maximillian Melikoff, at St David’s Cathedral in Hobart – and though she lived most of her life in London, she returned to visit her hometown on many occasions. During one of those visits to Hobart, she arranged to set up a trust fund so that the interest from her assets held in Tasmania could be made available to St Ann’s, among other local beneficiaries.
St Ann’s itself was formed in 1922, and was essentially the first aged care home in Tasmania. The idea came from the mind of Annie Barnett, who – along with her sister and a number of friends – formed a home to provide warmth, comfort and companionship to elderly people. The Hobart Baptist Church formed a committee to take over the management of that home after Barnett’s death in 1946.
“We have a history of women that were practical and did the work,” says Parr, who got involved with St Ann’s roughly 18 years ago. “The fundraising that enabled St Ann’s to be set up in the first place was done by women. They did a lot of the actual caring too – and still do.”
That unique history is one of the central things that set St Ann’s Homes apart in the marketplace. Other important factors include the company’s key values, one of which is enjoyment. “We think that’s important for residents and for staff,” Parr says. “We really foster that. People approach their work in a very positive way.”
A simple but important component of the company’s value system is smiling, which St Ann’s encourages all of their staff to do as often as possible. “They know they set the tone for residents here, and they get congratulated for their beautiful smiles and how nicely they interact with people,” Parr explains. “That might seem a little trivial to outsiders, but it’s something we get lots of feedback about. People feel warmly welcomed because of that.”
Altogether, St Ann’s employs roughly 360 people – on top of the workers in their two campuses, they also provide management services to another facility north of the state called Toosey.
According to Parr, the employee-company relationship at St Ann’s is exceptional, and something she works hard at keeping strong. “Somebody coming into any of our buildings will notice whether or not if a cleaner has done a good job long before they notice whether the CEO has done a good job,” she says. “We don’t want to underestimate the value or contributions that everybody makes. I think that’s very important.”
Fostering that corporate culture means being as supportive and flexible to employees as possible. “We try to look beyond what we have to do to what we can do,” Parr says. “If somebody is perhaps caring for a sick child – and they’re somebody who has a good record with us – then we’d see how we can ensure that they take the time necessary to care for the child without any detriment to their job. Even if they don’t have all the leave that’s required, we would look at what we could do.”
“We’re looking for ways that we can improve the workplace, the work environment, and the quality of the work experience for people by the way we behave,” she adds.
When hiring employees into their culture, Parr says they look for people that are engaging. “They have to be good listeners, and have to respond in a respectful way, not a condescending way, to the needs of people we care for. They have to be an enabler where that’s possible, and where that isn’t possible they have to enable choice.”
“That team needs to be able to be diverse, focused, supportive and flexible,” Parr adds. “And that’s the team we have.”
The challenges posed to St Ann’s Homes are the same challenges posed to the rest of the aged care industry, including tightening government regulations and rising consumer expectations. To contend with these challenges, Parr says they simply prepare.
“You don’t get surprised by things that are coming,” she says. “You position yourselves so that you know what’s happening, and you accommodate for it, and if you can, you exceed expectations. If you try and meet your customer’s expectations and anticipate their needs, the rest will flow.”
According to Parr, the future of St Ann’s Homes is in continuing to anticipate consumer needs and staying ahead of the market. One way they are doing that is by diversifying, and one way they are diversifying is through the development a lifestyle village called Verve – “the most innovative lifestyle village in Australia,” Parr says.
“It will be the only green star accredited retirement village in the country,” she explains. “It comes with the latest technology; it opts for things like solar powered hot water, as well as natural gas heating. We’re looking at a design that ensures all units are oriented to the north so we make the maximum use of sunshine, and all the materials are low maintenance.”
In addition to being environmentally sustainable, Verve is designed as a community that meets the holistic lifestyle needs of its residents. It offers a range of optional services designed to make life easier and more enjoyable, and that will enable residents to remain at Verve as their needs change.
At the heart of the village will be a retail centre, which Parr calls a combination between an Italian grocer and a coffee shop.
“Verve is a pretty ambitious development,” she says. “We’re just starting on the second stage of construction and it’s going exceedingly well.”
In the long term, St Ann’s Homes will remain a medium-sized aged care provider in Tasmania. The way it will change is by developing a more diverse range of care and support options for a more diverse range of clients. “If we can’t do that, then we won’t be relevant, and we won’t have customers, and we won’t have community support,” Parr says.
Offering community care is another way that Parr sees St Ann’s diversifying. The idea there, she says, is not simply to offer medical services, but social ones as well. “I think we need to make sure that when people get old they should be encouraged to see what else they can do.”
“We have to stop looking at old people as being in need of our help,” Parr concludes. “We have to look at them as real members of the community who have needs, and if we’re smart business people we’ll look at how we can meet them as soon as they’re indentified, not when they are just about ready to go to hospital.”