A nursing home can be a new beginning

September 21, 2014
FEROS CARE RESIDENT DOREEN WHITE WITH NOELLA MASON
FEROS CARE RESIDENT DOREEN WHITE WITH NOELLA MASON

“This is our kind of nursing home,” my book group declared on learning that Feros Care had live-streamed the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival to its aged care residents last month. Some of us still call aged care facilities ‘nursing homes’. Some of us still dread them on our own behalf or our parents’. And some of us still think the activities conducted in these places start and end with a World War 11 sing-a-long and bingo.

But through the experiences of one of our mothers, we learnt that Feros Care, which operates three high and low care villages in northern NSW as well as community care, believes aged care residents have a right to intellectual and cultural pursuits. And bingo’s available too. “I’ll be playing bingo when it’s my turn,” said Feros Care’s chief executive officer, Jennene Buckley. “But when I suggested a World War 11 song the other day, the residents howled me down.”

Using top-notch technology, writers, politicians and public intellectuals such as Robyn Davidson, Julian Burnside and Bob Brown were streamed live from the popular writers’ festival into the lounge-rooms at Feros’ facilities. Dozens of residents gathered in the rooms over the three days to be enlivened by the festival vibe and the tonic of new ideas. Thanks to the video conferencing technology, they were even able to ask the writers questions. Two high care residents got to go the event in town, one with her daughter, the other with a staff member.

“When I think of the activities we provide,” Jennene says. “I call them ‘mature’.” This would distinguish them from the infantilising activities typical of much aged care practice though Jennene was too polite to say so.

It got me thinking about the ideal, affordable aged care facility. For our parents, for our future selves, what would it look and feel like? What would we do there? Many people still feel desperately unhappy at the thought of moving into a home. As a new report by Demos, the UK think tank, says: “The public broadly see residential homes as places of illness and frailty where boredom and loneliness pervades, and where you would only go as a last resort.”

But in a sea of mediocrity, and examples of poor and abusive practices, there are some examples of innovation and high quality aged care. From pro-actively identifying hearing loss in residents, to creative play with dementia patients, to music therapy, and the ginger beer brewing club, many organisations are adopting more imaginative programs to improve the life of their residents. This month Feros Care won a prestigious award. At the 2014 Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) national conference it took out the major award for Australia’s best community-owned aged care organisation. It was the third time in a month Feros had been recognised by the industry for excellence and innovation. What makes it special?

At the heart of its philosophy is the radical idea that people in their 80s are at the start of a new phase full of opportunities and possibilities. Going into aged care doesn’t need to signify the end of something. It need not mean boredom, loneliness and helplessness, the three plagues of ageing. Rather it can mean visiting the latest Margaret Olley exhibition, if not in person, then virtually, through video conferencing. “We sent a staff member to the gallery with a video camera on her head,” said Jennene, “to stream the exhibition back to the residents.”

It need not mean leaving your pet behind if it’s possible to accommodate it. With the help of vetted and trained volunteers, you can find new interests, a new bridge partner, get a massage, pick up some computer skills, go to yoga. Entering a facility doesn’t mean severing connections with distant family or friends. Through the enthusiastic adoption of new technology, Feros helps a resident see their granddaughter’s wedding in Singapore, or a son travelling in Italy. “The way to keep people happy for the rest of their lives is to help them stay connected to their family, friends and community,” Jennene said.

When I think of what I’d want in an aged care facility, it’s not all that different from what I want now. I’d want to remain as independent as possible. I’d want to be able to do what I wanted to do, pursue my interests, eat what I liked, go to bed when I wanted to. I wouldn’t want to be infantilised. A bad sign is when “staff are telling you how it’s going to be,” said Jennene. “You’re the one who’s got to be in charge.”

With frailty and dementia safety is paramount, and kind, competent staff sufficient in number so residents aren’t neglected or over-medicated. And what’s your chance of finding a good home? Radio National’s Background Briefing on Sunday highlighted examples of poor care and cover-up involved in the deaths of two residents, and a defective accreditation and complaints system. Lynda Saltarelli, founder of the fantastic site, AgedCareCrisis.com said: “Good homes are rare. The Australian aged care system lacks transparency making it impossible for people to make informed decisions.” Increasingly, private equity companies and merchant bankers are buying into the industry. Lynda advises visiting residents regularly at different times, including mealtime, and talking to other visitors. Here’s the link to her checklist on Choosing a Nursing Home. In its surveys of residents, Feros has asked, ‘Are you happy?’  They are but not as happy as elderly people still living at home. There’s a lesson in that.

Share your stories of good and poor practices, and your ideal. Do leave a Comment.

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