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Film explores bond between staff, residents

A documentary that details the close relationship between staff, residents and their families as part of one provider’s approach to residential aged care is drawing international attention.

It Takes A Community – A relationship-focused approach to celebrating and supporting old age was filmed at Arcare Helensvale in Queensland and has been viewed on YouTube more than 3000 times. This short film, directed by Corinne Maunder, will form part of sociologist, photographer and author Cathy Greenblat’s larger movie project, Side by Side: love and joy in long-term dementia care.

When Greenblat was visiting Australia in 2013, she met Daniella Greenwood, strategy and innovation manager at Arcare. Greenblat was impressed by the relationship-focused approach and asked if she could film at one of Arcare’s residences when she visited Australia again this year.

Greenwood says the response to the documentary has been overwhelming. “We have heard from people all over the world who support what we are doing and ask to hear more about how we managed to get buy-in from all staff for such a shift in culture,” she says. “The answer is, of course, that the change started from the ground up – not the other way around.”

In the video, Karen Watt, manager of Arcare Helensvale, says, “It starts with, I suppose, myself as an individual coming in to work each day and thinking, ‘How can I affect somebody’s life here? How can I do more of what people want to make them happy?’ Each person is trying to do that and I feel that it’s very contagious.”

This is part of the relationship-focused approach, where the emphasis is on quality bonds and interactions.

“This entails Arcare moving its focus away from the medical/custodial/institutional model – where every aspect of an older person’s life is seen through the lens of sickness and decline and then managed – to … where mind, body, spirit and continued growth are nurtured in the context of close, interdependent relationships,” Greenwood says. “Working with and for vulnerable people is seen as soulful and ultimately life-enhancing work.”

Staff at Arcare are encouraged to form emotional connections with residents, clients and those closest to them, rather than keeping a professional distance.

In the video Greenwood says, “We heard the same thing from heaps of different people – it was all about relationships. When cleaners were complimented, whether it was in our compliment forms or when families spoke about them, it was never how well they cleaned the rooms; it was about the relationships they developed with their mum.

“Even with the nurses and care staff and maintenance and gardening, it was all about the relationships between people.”

In the middle of doing a puzzle with resident Beryl Rice, catering assistant Judy Barnett says, “We get to know them all privately.”

“Yes, we do,” Rice says, before discussing how Barnett has taken her to her home for a meal.

Greenwood says, “Staff, residents and the people closest to them are all connected and rely on one another – everyone is called upon to contribute.

“All of the clients and staff within Arcare are considered citizens with continuing rights and responsibilities [amongst] one another and the wider community. Residents experience a sense of purpose as they continue to live as citizens who are needed by others.” She adds that they help and support one another just as they did in their own communities.

“Staff get to bring the amazing person they are at home to work with them; their whole person, all of the skills, passions and gifts that make up who they are,” Greenwood explains. “We have found they are unable to bring this whole self if we don’t give them permission to build close relationships that move their role away from professional to fellow human being.”

Through research, Arcare established that staff find meaning in their work through the relationships they develop.

Greenwood says Arcare’s Dedicated Staffing model was another important measure for bringing relationships to life. It involves staff working at least three shifts a week with the same residents.

“This enables close relationships to develop between staff, family and residents,” Greenwood says. “The feedback from this initiative has been very positive, but we knew it would be appreciated by all stakeholders because this is what they asked for when we did our research back in 2012.”

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