The watershed moment in my career, if not my life, came when my own mother began thinking about her life in retirement. I had spent the past 18 years working in the retirement industry and in fact had been researching the aged care model that eventually become NewDirection Care for about seven years when my mother came to retirement age.
That prompted me to start thinking about the industry, what it offers and how it meets the needs of those who use it, the residents. I asked myself, what would I like aged care to look like if it was my mum who was going into it?
After thinking long and hard about this, I came to a confronting conclusion – even though I had been in the industry for 18 years, it did not offer the kind of services and care that I would want for my mother.
It was not something that I would want for someone who I love, and it was also not something that I would want for myself in retirement.
I realised in those moments that the industry had to change, and that to help make that change happen, then I had to change, too. The industry at that time was very much a one size fits all approach. There was not a lot of focus on the needs of the individuals who came through the industry’s doors.
As a result, and because of the research that I had been doing, what I wanted was to create a more fulfilling and meaningful lifestyle for people in residential retirement.
The concept that I came up with and then helped evolve was that of a micro-town, a village-like community where people lived together, supported each other and lived with the freedom and individuality of care that they needed as they progressed through their retirement.
What I envisaged was a community that evolved to meet the residents needs as those needs changed with age and abilities.
NewDirection Care grew out of that idea. Instead of establishing large, institutional buildings, edifices so large and intimidating that its easy to lose sight of the individual, we wanted to create an intimate environment that was more familiar, more home-like and more like the resident’s pre-retirement lives.
The micro-town that we built at Bellmere in Queensland is just like a country town. It has all the services and facilities that you might find in a country town – there’s a grocery store, a barber, a coffee shop and a fully equipped wellness centre that caters to the wide range of needs and wants of people as they age.
The resident s can come up to the café every day if they wish and it has become one of the community’s most important social hubs where people meet, make friends, catch up with each other.
They can pamper themselves a little with a new hairdo, go to the gym if they wish, or simply sit and watch the world go by. We all need that, no matter how old you might be.
And when we say that we built a community, that is exactly what we did at Bellmere. It has six streets and 17 houses. Instead of a large soulless building with 120 bedrooms under a single roof, we have created common houses, where a maximum of seven people live together. They are essentially mini care homes. They look just like your home and mine. There is a lounge room and a kitchen and a living room. They are extremely comfortable and designed to be genuinely like the homes that our residents would have lived in before they retired.
Living in a communal situation is a great advantage for creating friendships and relationships with other residents. Some of the men refer to themselves as housemates and they talk about it being very much like when they were at university or perhaps in the army. There is a real, tangible camaraderie about it.
They get to live together, to share a meal, to help make the meal and whatever else they might like to do within that warm space that is now their home.
It’s a perfect environment for social interactions and independence, which is one of the aspects of residential life that we encourage.
If someone can do something, then we consider that it is our job to help them to continue doing it, not to take it away from them. Unfortunately, that is something that happens all too often in traditional aged care.
With NewDirection Care, we have created a warm and welcoming community that is unlike any other aged care community in Australia, and unlike anything else in the world. In fact, it is a revolutionary way forward that is changing residential care for the better.