An enthusiasm for management and health, coupled with concern for the elderly, saw the young Stephen Muggleton move from hospital management to a career in the aged care sector.
Always interested in contributing to making a difference to people’s quality of life, it was during his time managing teaching hospitals that professor Stephen Muggleton became increasingly concerned with the amount of elderly patients he saw trapped in hospitals. This fact he put down to insufficient community care and residential support.
“This is when I decided to move out of hospitals and be more involved in managing organisations that were caring for the aged, vulnerable and disabled,” he said.
In 2003, Muggleton stepped into his first CEO role for Blue Care – the residential and community care division of UnitingCare Queensland.
Over the eight years he served the company, Muggleton oversaw the strengthening of the brand and its investment into its retirement living division Azure Blue, with his efforts contributing to the company being recognised with a Premier’s Award, as well as Q150 icon status.
“I really enjoyed the ability to transform an organisation and increase it and improve its ability to care for people,” Muggleton said of his time at Blue Care.
Muggleton was also professionally recognised for his business acumen, being awarded the inaugural AIM Award as Queensland Non-for-Profit Manager of the Year.
Today, Steve is heading up not-for-profit healthcare agency RDNS, which provides 24-hour, seven-day specialist and general home care to people throughout Australia and New Zealand.
Muggleton was fortunate enough to be mentored through the early stages of his career by professor Robert Burton, who went on to do ground breaking work on cancer control with the World Health Organisation.
“Despite not being a medico or a medical researcher he used to challenge me to apply the same discipline to health management decisions.”
Burton’s advice: “Without valid data you are just another person with an opinion” stuck with Steve, shaping the way he made decisions throughout his career. He has never executed change just for the sake of it, stating “there has to be a strong case for change and measurable positive outcomes for staff and consumers”.
Recognised in the industry as an innovative and transformational leader, today Muggleton describes his leadership style as being based on servant leadership. He believes that to properly serve the mission of the business, it’s imperative to align all the organisations efforts to support front line staff and care.
Anything more complicated, he states, turns “leadership into unnecessary and distracting bureaucracy”.
“As leaders in a tough sector we must create a culture where there is a bias for action, where staff are trusted and encouraged to trial new ways of delivering care,” he said.
“I strongly believe that people who choose to care for vulnerable and frail people should be empowered as an invaluable resource and not be made to feel that they are being micromanaged as a cost.”
Growth and rebrand
It is no wonder that a businessman who “hates orderly inaction” – has been able to make so many changes to the business in such a short time.
Since stepping into the role of CEO at RDNS just over 21 months ago, Muggleton has rejuvenated the business, extending its footprint both nationally and internationally, as well as revamping the brand and image.
It was this opportunity for expansion, in conjunction with RDNS’s reputation as an iconic Victorian provider that originally drew Muggleton to the role.
“It’s a position that doesn’t come up very often – the previous CEO had been in the role for 17 years and done a terrific job.
“But after discussion with the board, I realised they wanted to expand the expertise and had the constitution and vision, which is very attractive to a CEO – to expand both the variety of services that you offer as well as your geographical footprint.”
Before Muggleton joined the company RDNS had a well-established client base of 37,000. This has increased by over 21 per cent, rising to approximately 45,000.
This rise can be attributed in part to the negotiation of a number of large contracts from national aged care services company KinCare, effectively buying RDNS a footprint in every Australian capital city and the eastern seaboard.
On an international scale, RDNS also picked up a major Home and Community Care contract with the Southern District Health Board in New Zealand, as well as two Accident Compensation Commission contracts and expanded their core services in Auckland.
Aware that change is inevitable – in regards to the customer, the industry and the pathways by which clients choose providers – RDNS also underwent a complete image overhaul.
Muggleton said the revamp has been an exercise in understanding what people want from a provider and creating a brand that is fresh, more visible and modern.
“We are about more than just delivering a functional service to people: we are about sharing their journey with them ...
“Our new brand reflects this sentiment; it captures not just the things we do but the way we do it, and the overall experience we undertake to provide to our clients and customers.”
This complete transformation can be firstly attributed to “the support of an incredibly capable and engaged board”, according to Muggleton.
Secondly, he said, was aligning that support and vision into a series of steps that have been and are continued to be executed by a smart and energetic leadership team.
Tech and research
Although quick to stress it’s never a substitution of care, Steve confirms that if used correctly technology can help supplement and better support clients.
RDNS recently took home one of four major awards at the first Asia Pacific Eldercare Innovation Awards in Singapore.
Video conferencing is high on the agenda, with the company having just completed a successful trial with medication management.
Under Muggleton’s direction, the company has most recently gained the largest grant under the NBN Enabled Telehealth Pilots Program – clear evidence of their commitment to being at the forefront of research in the area.
“We have got a call centre which is staffed by nurses 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So, if we are looking after people that are palliative or that have quite serious conditions – they get reassurance by just being able to link in with the nurse at any time of the day or weekend.”
Another element that enticed Muggleton to the position at RDNS was the “degree to which the provision of care is underpinned by research”.
RDNS’s Research Institute undertakes original research, evaluates community nurse programs and provides support to clinical leadership groups.
“Our research institute specialises in dementia, wound care, medication management and telehealth and its lead by Susan Koche – who is currently the chair of the minister for ageing’s expert advisory committee on dementia,” Muggleton said.
“In 2011–12 the RDNS Institute’s research team managed 10 major projects, presented at more than 30 conferences here and overseas, and published 20 peer reviewed articles.”
The future of care
According to Muggleton, the short-term plan for RDNS is to consolidate the business as it stands now, with the possibility of diversifying its services throughout Australia.
He would like to see movement into chronic disease programs and more primary care centres. Like many similar organisations, the company is also looking into home-care packages and providing good service solutions for residential aged care and retirement living.
RDNS will also continue its strong history of dedication to technology, by heavy investment into telehealth.
“I am delighted with the growth, but we are really only matching increasing demand as the Australian population ages – and we think there plenty of potential to continue growing to provide more innovative response to people’s needs,” he said.
Muggleton’s message to other providers: “There is no doubt that the funding environment is tough but it’s been tough for a long time and it’s always been changing. It’s important not to feel trapped or helpless by the situation.
“Above and beyond the opportunities presented by an increased Home care packages and NDIS there is plenty to be excited about. Good providers should easily adapt to consumer directed care principles – it should be part of their fabric anyway.
“They have the possibility of expanding their primary care offerings, doing more to ameliorate chronic disease, develop healthy ageing programs and reduce pressure on hospital beds.”Do you have an idea for a story?
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