Retirement living isn’t what it used to be. This sentiment has been reflected over and over again in the media, government bodies, and most importantly in those entering into the retirement living life. Individuals reaching the age where supported living in a community is a consideration, are often more vital, better off and older than those in the generations that have come before. This means that the type of living and the quality of life expected from many of those offering villa living must be far different from that which was offered even ten years ago.
This fact has led to a surge in the number of retirement living companies in recent years, but none seem to have had the long history of providing what is now known as modern retirement village as Strathearn Village has had. Strathearn has its roots in the early 1970s – this means that they have established themselves as a name to trust, but does not mean that they are not looking to the future of aged care. Strathearn Village does it better, because they do it locally.
Matt Downie, CEO of Strathearn Village, joined the company three years ago, and says his role at first was to steer the company as it stood towards delivering a new project that they had been planning. His second mission objective was to develop Strathearn Village’s current aged care model into one that is future-ready.
“What attracted me to the organisation was the fact that it was a locally based community organisation. This was important to me for personal reasons,” says Mr. Downie. “But what was also particularly attractive to the role was that Strathearn was actively looking at growing the organisation, especially in regards to their new project.” Essentially, Mr. Downie joined because he saw an opportunity to affect his community in a lasting and substantial way.
“I really saw it as a way to explore new accommodation options and provide for aged care for the future,” he says.
Mr. Downie points to number of initiatives that have taken place over the last three years, and he thinks that one of the most important steps they have taken was to perform a bit of self-examination.
“We looked at who Strathearn was in the local community. We had suffered a bit of an identity crisis, and an example of this is our original logo. That logo was the horse and foal. This was more in tune with – and the same logo used by – local council and the region as a whole.”
Mr. Downie says that what they were looking for was to develop the identity of the organisation on its own. “We started off taking on a significant re-branding exercise,” he says. This also involved becoming more involved with the local media, and building up the content that would allow them to market themselves under this new image. “It is all about creating awareness about our organisation, about what we did, and what we currently do – and where we are heading.”
The changes Downie talks about are not just cosmetic. They have involved the production of new projects that involved significant investment and the adoption of new healthcare and living technologies.
New Technologies, Better Care
“Over the last two years we have moved to a clinical care management software system, which has allowed us to move away from old paper based systems. These older systems are inherently very time consuming for staff,” says Mr. Downie. As an example, in the past progress notes on a resident would have to be duplicated, if not triplicated. With the new care management software, staff members are able to reduce this work load by having a single entry point that is accessible across the many different needs.
“The software automatically drops relevant information into the system that ensures that not only are we compliant, but we have the information on hand to match up with our own best practices policies.”
Mr. Downie says that their staff have embraced this new system, and praises their ability to adapt to these changes. “Software and management tool changes are not the easiest things in the world to initiate. Once they saw the benefits from this change they have really embraced it,” he reports. He says they have immediately observed the amount of time they have saved on paper work, and sees the primary benefit being the fact that they are no longer sitting behind a desk filling out forms, but are now able to utilise this new time to get out on the floor and spend time with their residents.
The second part of the software roll-out dealt with one of the most common errors in healthcare, it helped eliminate the possibility that a healthcare worker could forget to sign-off on the administration of medications for Strathearn’s residents. This could lead to either accidental double medication, or under-medication.
With the elimination of paper, they are also looking to also enable their system to automatically communicate with local GP’s and onsite doctors. This upgrade required their site to have the technological back bone that would support these innovations, with the added benefit that when staff are administering medication and care, they have WiFi access to a resident’s entire care plan and not only the information required for a specific task, so if issues arise on site they are incredibly well informed.
The WiFi backbone has also been utilised to roll out a replacement Nurse Call system across the site. “Our existing Nurse Call system was 35 years old, problematic and parts were no longer readably available,” Mr. Downie says, “and the install of a commercial grade WiFi network has allowed us to piggy back numerous systems including a modern Nurse Call – which would have otherwise been cost prohibitive if we had to hard wire through an existing facility.”
Another component to the roll out of new technology was the replacement and expansion of existing camera systems to a High Definition IP network based camera system. The system allows for quick retrieval of incidents or other events at a High Quality in public spaces. This also allows staff to access camera views while on rounds – another benefit of the WiFi, ensuring the safety and comfort of the residents and staff alike.
Expansion onto a new Greenfield Site
The most substantial new project of Strathearn’s has been the plan for a new Residential Aged Care Facility within the Scone Township, on Gundy Road. This area has been carefully selected to provide for a pleasant rural experience for potential residents, and has followed Strathearn’s and Mr. Downie’s vision of what aged cared means.
“In addition to the Residential Aged Care Facility, we are also planning to commence construction on a new Retirement Village this year, for which we have already received significant interest from the community,” Mr. Downie says. “And as part of our medium term planning, a Child Care Centre is also planned for the site which will deliver another much needed service to the Upper Hunter Community, whilst also accommodating the needs of our growing workforce. Stage One in its entirety with the three planned projects is in excess of a $33M commitment.”
The Residential Aged Care Facility will be built around a ‘House’ model, with the facility broken down into house modules, each with approximately 16 bedrooms, a central living space, kitchen, dining, sitting rooms and gardens. The Houses, whilst separate, will still be linked under one roof to allow the facility to operate with the same efficiencies of a large facility, but move towards a much more intimate level of care for the residents. Each House will have its own private entry and core group of staff – which will facilitate a much more personal focused care model. Two of these Houses in stage one will be dedicated to Dementia Specific Care, with secure gardens for residents to enjoy off each House.
The Retirement Village will be built to a high quality, and importantly the dwellings are designed to not only ensure that the residents can continue to live as independently for as long as possible, but if they do require care, this can be delivered in a safe and easy environment for both the care worker and the resident. There are a wide range of floor plans and sizes available, including some with parking space for a caravan or boat at the dwelling.
The Child Care Facility is also designed around best practice principles regarding the delivery of care and education for the children. It will also provide a work friendly environment for the staff, and will accommodate up to 84 children across five separate class rooms. The outside play area will be based around an environmentally friendly plan, moving well away from the use of plastics and rubber, towards more natural materials. It will feature things such as a dry rock creek bed, crawl tunnels, arbours, trees, et cetera. Strathearn has been speaking to the local schools, pre-school and council, as well as the broader community about these plans and have their full support.
“We see this new Greenfield Project as it unfolds, not only delivering much needed Care and Accommodation services to the Upper Hunter Community, but also an excellent opportunity to ensure that the local community continues to engage with Strathearn and its residents on site,” Mr. Downie says, “A key to the success of the project to date has been working with an experienced project management company within our industry from early on, coupled with a fantastic Architect who has really listened and taken on board our vision for the site and how it will fit in within the community.”
“We have excellent programs and events already with local community,” Mr. Downie adds. “ We see the expansion of these opportunities to draw the local community into Strathearn as a positive thing for our residents. Having a Child Care facility on site for example will see Mum’s and Dad’s drop their children off, and for some, hopefully spend time with friends/relatives living on site at Strathearn. Also the possibility of Mum’s and Dad’s staying around for a coffee in our planned on site coffee shop or similar will assist in generating a sense of activity and community on the new site.”
“I have also seen excellent intergenerational programs in place at other facilities which have adopted a similar model, such as Show and Tell time with young children and the elder Residents, or Residents becoming involved in activities such as storytelling, or toy workshops. This project is an exciting venture for us, and we look forward to delivering these facilities and programs to the community.”
A Good Mix
With over 100 aged care residents at their present Residential Aged Care Facility, Strathearn Village has a good mix of low and high care individuals on site. “In our day therapy service there are about 50 clients who utilise that service on a regular basis; in our community care we have 30 external clients and around 30 internal clients. When I say internal I am referring to those who live in our existing 60 independent living villas,” says Mr. Downie.
For respite services, Mr. Downie says that it is a bit harder to track down a specific number on these, but they provide 1100 bed days of respite care each year with varying lengths of stay for those on respite. It is also an area of planned expansion, he reports, due to the demand for this care in the area.
The Importance of Community
Maintaining their links to the community is important for Strathearn as an organisation, as well as something they endeavor to provide to their residents. “We have a local bus that will pick up people from the community and bring them to our site for organised activities. We also have regular day trip out and about into the local region – dropping them home again at the end of the day,” says Mr. Downie.
“We are a community owned and community operated organisation. Any funds that we receive are invested back into core business – which is the delivery of aged care into the region.” Mr. Downie says that this is important to the locality, the people living in their facilities, and the community as a whole. He says that those paying for the services are assured that those funds are being reinvested locally and have a real impact.
Their tireless pursuit of, and dedication to, best practices is reflected in their drive to become both an employer of choice, and a health care provider with no equals. “We want to push the boundaries and ensure that we are delivering the best possible outcome that we can with both the built environment and the delivery of care to the elders in our community,” Mr. Downie says.