Care and Compassion

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-By Kristy Attard

“We specialise in home nursing and healthcare and we strive to be the best at what we do,” says Royal District Nursing Service (RDNS) CEO Stephen Muggleton. With the Australian home care and nursing industry being extremely competitive, it is an ambitious aim. What gives Mr Muggleton such confidence in RDNS? Is it the organisation’s enviable reputation for excellence built upon 127 years of caring and comforting people? Is it having the same passion within the organisation to look after the sick, elderly and frail today as has existed from day one? Is it the tireless dedication and genuine kindness of the staff that make the difference? The answer is yes to all of these – but how did it all begin?

RDNS has a rich legacy of caring for and comforting people in need, forming a strong foundation for the organisation today. In 1885, a group of concerned citizens met to discuss what to do about the poverty that pervaded the slums of Melbourne. These decaying black spot areas were incredibly dangerous, so, “This small group decided to establish the Melbourne District Nursing Society.”

Initially, nurses did rounds of the lanes on foot, caring for the sick and poor. As the number of nurses increased, they were issued with bicycles to get around the inner suburbs of Melbourne. Says Mr Muggleton, “The nurses’ work was tough during the Depression years and the Second World War, but the need for their services was unquestionable.” By the mid 50s, the name had changed to the Melbourne District Nursing Service, and they were kept busy dealing with poverty, improving hygiene and liaising with doctors to improve the lives of people. “It was simply a stunning service staffed by teams of people who were truly selfless and dedicated to helping others.”

Today RDNS honours its grassroots, community spirit heritage born on the rough and tough streets of Melbourne with its Homeless Persons Program (RDNS HPP). This worthwhile program provides holistic healthcare to the homeless of Melbourne. In addition, many of the public hospitals in Melbourne have RDNS nurses working inside them helping people make a smooth transition from hospital to home.

With such a long history, RDNS has undergone many changes, although it remains an independent not-for-profit organisation. “The Queen granted the use of the word ‘Royal’ and we became the Royal District Nursing Service in 1966. We have set the pace ever since then with a research and education arm, a multi-major modernisation program, sophisticated computer software roll-outs, collaborations and partnerships, a state of the art call centre and liaison service and an in-the-home nursing care service that is first class.”

At its heart, RDNS still has the same passion for home and nursing care today as it did then. “I think we started back in 1885 with a fire in the belly to care for people with the highest degree of compassion and skill and I think that fire has burnt brightly throughout the years,” reflects Mr Muggleton. “It still motivates all staff today; people at RDNS are very proud of the banner under which we work. That fire has enabled us to maintain a constant focus on improvement, while we try to anticipate and respond to changing environments.”

Has the industry itself witnessed many changes? “Yes and no. The basics remain the same – that is to say that there always have been and always will be people who need to be looked after in the home.” RDNS allows people to remain living in the comfort of their own homes while receiving the best of care in a number of general and specialist areas. The quest to comfort is still alive; what has changed is the process of delivery, education and technology.

Technology at RDNS is omnipresent, sophisticated and easy to use. “However the face-to-face relationship with clients needing care in the home has not changed – and never will,” insists Mr Muggleton. “To put it simply, we do things better today. The innovative mobile healthcare technology at RDNS is impressive. Staff are equipped with the latest GPRS-enabled technology linking them directly with on-line support and a central client database. As part of the government’s Broadband Enabled Innovation Project (BEIP), we are trialling the use of in-home devices that enable nurses to care for clients remotely. We have a call centre that streamlines client services; robust government funding models; a research and education arm and professional development requirements; and are a participant in the national Wound Management Innovation CRC, contributing to research into innovative wound care tools, systems and technologies. All of this means that we have nurses who are not only committed to the job, they are more highly skilled than ever, delivering the latest in quality care and a range of complex, individualised services to each client.”

“We see our staff as people and we see in our people their intrinsic worth,” says Mr Muggleton. Field staff at RDNS make a valuable contribution to helping clients with everything from domestic duties to wound care, so recruiting people with the right personality and attitude is vital. “People who are committed to worthy, positive outcomes that make other people feel better; who remember every day that their work contributes to a greater good; and who can see that working in a not-for-profit work environment has a worth or a value that cannot be measured in dollars. And if it were valued in dollars then its meaning would be lost.” Mr Muggleton encourages staff to be curious and courageous, challenging RDNS with ideas for improvement. “Our staff are the face of our organisation and therefore they are, by definition, our reputation.”

Working on the frontline at RDNS as a carer or nurse is by no means easy. Client safety is paramount. All candidates undertake a rigorous selection process including mandatory criminal history checks. “RDNS needs to be satisfied that qualifications and registrations are valid and current and, on top of this, we are stringent in seeking people with special qualities to do a very special job,” Mr Muggleton explains, listing compassion, integrity, respect and understanding as essential. “Judging by the feedback from our clients, we tend to get it right.”

It has been an amazing journey so far for RDNS. The next chapter will be about having the courage to try to create better solutions. The organisation’s top priorities are continuing to invest in research and supporting innovation to better the health and wellbeing of clients. One example so far has been realising the enormous potential of ICT (Information and Communications Technology). “We’ve invested in research and ICT innovation, demanded some pretty strong business management as well as terrific partnering with key stakeholders like the Home and Community Care (HACC) program in Victoria,” comments Mr Muggleton. “But at the end of the day – and at the risk of sounding like a broken record – I don’t think you can go past the extraordinary efforts and commitment of our staff.”

RDNS will continue to empower and support its frontline staff so they can deliver the best quality care possible. The highly respected RDNS Helen Macpherson Smith Institute of Community Health is keeping carers and nurses at the forefront of patient care. Staff will continue doing everything possible to assist clients every step of the way forward. “Each year the high numbers of staff receiving long-service awards is an inspiring testament to what they see as their life’s vocation. The major beneficiary of their dedication of course is the client; but RDNS as an organisation is incredibly fortunate to have such people and they certainly are a mainstay of our reputation.”

RDNS is facing an ever-increasing demand for its services throughout Australia and New Zealand. Rapidly changing political and technological environments will demand quick responses to stay competitive. The Board at RDNS is constantly monitoring the horizon, anticipating challenges ahead and creating new opportunities for growth. Being a provider of choice in the industry means thinking strategically, strengthening partnerships, being proactive in all facets of business and never accepting the status quo. RDNS is keeping a sharp eye on new trends cropping up in aged care and retirement living to respond to challenges clients are facing. Staying true to the original intention of the organisation – to care for people and improve their standard of living – is everything. “At the end of the day Bill Clinton’s words always ring true for me, when he said to himself: ‘it’s about the economy, stupid,’” reflects Mr Muggleton. “I remind myself that, ‘it’s about the people, stupid!’”

Life is busy at RDNS; there are many exciting developments underway set to blossom in the near future. From a professional perspective, Mr Muggleton enjoys the enormous variety the role of being CEO at RDNS offers. “No day is ever the same; for instance, I could start the day working on an innovative partnership with a major hospital group, then become immersed in some current operational challenges like EBA negotiations, before videoconferencing into our NSW and NZ operations and finish the day working with an emerging Medicare local board.

“From a personal perspective, I love the fact that my efforts and investment in my work contribute in some small way to supporting people who are frail, suffering or who are looking for greater choice and independence through the services that RDNS provides. That is very satisfying: to know that what we do as an organisation is making significant and positive contributions to thousands of people every day. To be part of that story is what keeps me motivated and inspired.” Who can tell what the future holds for RDNS? It has been quite an adventure so far. “From humble beginnings 127 years ago with one nurse traipsing the slums of Melbourne with carbolic soap and a few bandages to what we are today, we have come a long way.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 19, 2018, 9:23 AM AEDT