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Worth a visit

A tour of aged-care sites in Europe and the UK leaves local officials encouraged and enlightened. 

Australia’s senior living and aged-care sectors’ skills and expertise are on par with their European contemporaries, according to results from a recent study tour.

Eight leaders from industry organisations throughout New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland were selected to visit facilities throughout the UK, Germany and the Netherlands.

Independent management consultancy Thinc, in conjunction with Marchese Partners, organised the tour to scope out overseas best practice and look for innovative ideas to bring back to the Australian sector.

During the eight days spent on the ground, the group went through 11 facilities, speaking and touring with senior management in order to identify major learning opportunities for Australian aged-care providers.

The report, European Lessons Learnt: The major opportunities for Australian aged care providers, highlights key findings from the study – as well as the main areas where Australian businesses can learn.

Along with social and cultural elements, use of technology and quality of care, respondents agreed that design was at the top of the list for lessons that could be learnt from European counterparts.

The use of innovative design ideas to open up facilities to local communities was one of the major learning points drawn from the site visits.

In the UK, the group spent half a day touring the facilities of one operator – St Monica Trust – which had three uniquely different offerings.

One of the stops on the tour was its Westbury Fields site in Bristol, where an integrated retirement village and care facility is built around an abandoned cricket oval.

The organisation partnered with the local cricket association to be able to use the clubhouse weekly.

This means people are coming through not just to visit elderly relatives and friends, but also to use services.

National aged care lead at Thinc, Kathryn Wilson, says this was a great example of innovative design used to encourage integration with local communities – providing opportunities for people who may not necessarily have family members in the facilities themselves.

“In Australia, we have been trying to work out ways in which we can integrate with the community for the better part of four or five years – rather than making people part of a community no one wants to be involved with.

“It offers a fantastic place for the local community to come to, and gives residents an opportunity to be part of the community and activities – rather than being isolated.”

Matt Row, general manager New South Wales for RetireAustralia, also found the spread-out UK design, which opted for single- and double-level villa living, as opposed to European multi-level, high-density living, most relevant.

Out of the three destinations, he said England was probably the most similar to his operations in Australia; therefore it was easy while there to see what could be implemented back home.

He noted another of the St Monica Trust sites in Bristol, Sandford Station – an integrated retirement village and care facility built around a decommissioned railway line – as an excellent example of incorporating the needs of the elderly into independent-type communities.

Adopting a house-based design, this site provides dementia patients with a high level of independence within what appears from the outside as normal housing. Internally, however, the design looks like a regular living arrangement; rooms were joined together but maintained as separate houses.

Row said it was this “homely environment” that was one of the most impressive aspects of the whole trip.

“Even the kitchen was designed exactly to look like someone’s home kitchen, which they had done to make people feel at home. They weren’t actually cooking all the meals in a commercial-style kitchen; they were bringing in the food and finishing off the preparation in the normal looking kitchen.”

Facilities in the Netherlands were also highly praised for their “innovative use of design to promote independence amongst dementia patients”. The De Berkenstede facility in Amsterdam received special mention for its “clusters – six rooms in residential settings that have a very non-clinical appearance and feel.

It was agreed that the general standard of design throughout the German facilities visited was high, with effective use of lighting and particular attention to buildings’ external details given special mention.

The tour was deemed a success by those involved and it may be considered as a bi-annual event.

“It was most pleasing to see that, although there were definite lessons to be learnt, we weren’t way behind the curb,” says Deborah Muldoon, Life Care general manager innovation and service development. “Just seeing what other ideas are out there gives us an opportunity to change what we have got at the moment.”

Three for the road

Along with innovative design ideas; tour participants identified three top tips Australian providers could learn from Europe and the UK:

• Embrace technology to optimise space and improve outcomes for residents. A great example of this was the installation of sensors in rooms to monitor movement. The hope is to tailor and improve design for residents.

Incorporating technology allows facilities to bring the community to residents in real time – streamlining church services, webinars, etc.

• Explore partnerships with local and national sporting associations and bodies, heritage groups and education providers to create an environment that promotes greater social interaction with the community.

• Exploit international best practice in design and care for dementia patients. New overseas models are unique examples of possible considerations when building anew or refurbishing an existing dementia care facility.

Key findings

• The Australian industry is on par with the European countries visited, with similar skills and expertise.

• There are still significant opportunities to learn from the European facilities/systems visited.

• The top three areas for Australian providers to learn:

1. The innovative use of design to encourage integration with local areas

2. Social/cultural opportunities to ensure facilities are welcoming for families and the wider public

3. New developments to improve the quality of care

• European providers face similar issues to Australian aged-care organisations, particularly around funding, operating in fragile economic environments and providing effective models of care.

Source: European Lessons Learnt – The major opportunities for Australian aged care providers

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One comment

  1. interesting read, would have liked to see some photos of the facilities mentioned .