Community-Based Care

Amaroo Village

Amaroo Care Services Inc, trading as Amaroo Village is a community-based independent organisation caring for the frail-aged in a community environment and providing a range of affordable housing options for seniors at Gosnells, South-East of Perth and on WA’s south coast.

As Chief Executive David Fenwick told us, Amaroo has affordable senior’s housing, residential and community care on offer in the City of Gosnells, and new retirement villages in Denmark and Albany. In the case of Denmark, stage one has been completed (comprising 36 units) and stage two is in the planning phase. At Albany, stage one is also complete, with nine units and a clubhouse, “and we are preparing for stage two,” explains David.

At Amaroo, residents can expect to enjoy a “relaxed and fulfilling lifestyle that offers a range of activities and aged care services designed to stimulate and care for your mind and body.”

There are three basic components to the organisation’s offering: affordable housing for seniors, both in the form of resident-funded units and rented units. A third of the stock is in rental units, accessible to those on an aged pension, while resident-funded units are available for retirees with their own resources, who typically owned their own home before coming into the village. “All of that is self care, or independent living,” explains David, “but more and more we find that people, after some time in the village, are becoming a little frail and not able to cope so well with independent life so they require assistance, which we can offer through home care packages.”

There are also two residential care facilities in Gosnells, a low level care facility and a high-care facility, with a total of 173 beds. There is always a demand for these beds because WA is short of residential care beds by about (at present) 3,380 beds, “which obviously puts pressure on public hospitals and any organisation that owns or operates residential care facilities. This is a time when we have very much an ageing population – and there are a lot of beds in hospitals in the state occupied by people who should be probably in nursing homes.”

Funding – even in the latest aged care reform package announced last April – “affords little relief of this shortfall until at least 2014.” David suggests the package was a bit like buying a pair of shoes and getting excited about seeing the shoebox, but opening the box to find only a picture of what the shoes would look like. It was disappointing, after a lot of work done with the productivity commission in the last two years, to then have the government not provide immediate relief. “In fact, they have actually taken about $480 million out of this year’s budget, so things are bound to be even more challenging for the small standalone facilities operating not only in cities but in rural and regional Australia,” says David.

The challenge is likely to grow as more and more people retire and are not necessarily replaced by young Australian entering the workforce to boost the tax base. It is an international problem – to ascertain what is sustainable and look at ‘perceived entitlement,’ which for someone retiring now is something very different from someone retiring 20 years ago. “There has to be an adjustment to more of a ‘consumer pays’ model. But not everyone can afford to pay because they haven’t put enough money aside for their ageing years.”

Community-based Amaroo Village is a not-for-profit enterprise, but, “we have to balance the books and it becomes more difficult year by year,” David explains. “We have managed to keep our head above water and operate in the black, but I don’t know how much longer we can continue to do that without some assistance, either via significant age care reforms or a boost to our funding.” But neither appears imminent. “There is a greater emphasis on balancing the budget and bringing it to a surplus, than on actually addressing the needs of an ageing population, particularly in WA where we have not been building aged care facilities to meet the growing demand. There has been no significant building for the last three years because it costs too much to borrow the money.”

Every single residential care place costs in the vicinity of $260,000 to build, but the Federal authorities pegged their assessment at around $110,000. If you borrow the money to build the facility – say, 24 beds – you need to borrow at least $6 million, on which you have to service the debt as well as pay staff to operate that facility and it is impossible to make that equation in the current financial climate – it has been for the last four years.

Amaroo Village has slowed its growth and eased back on building new facilities in the last couple of years, says David, not so much because of a lack of demand or lack of funding, but because the people who would be ‘customers’ for the self-funded units have been in so many cases unable to sell their home and have had to remain in it pending an upswing in the real estate market. As to design, Amaroo aims to work with suitably sympathetic architects and builders who listen carefully to its requirements; “this may be the last home someone lives in and it needs to be friendly for disablement. We have developed some tremendous partnerships and have won awards in past years.”

WA seems to be just starting to make its way out of a real estate recession, says David. Amaroo Village has a reasonable ‘land bank’ and many of its facilities can be maintained to last another decade or more, but at the age of 41 years, the company is coming to the stage where some of its oldest facilities will need to be demolished and redeveloped. Much of the old stock comprises one-bedroom units, and well-meaning organisations such as Amaroo Village try as hard as they can to avoid the development of a two-tier situation where there is an obvious difference in the quality of facility – and therefore quality of life – between units for the self-funded and for the financially disadvantaged.

There has already been something of a swing away from metro Perth as a retirement area, with more people heading toward the sunny south coast where prices and the living are a little easier. Denmark, 420 kilometres south of Perth on the Denmark River, is a small town with timber mills, farming and wine as its main industries, as well as a growing tourism business. Amaroo was approached by the local authorities who had measured a migration of retirees from the town due to a lack of suitable accommodation. “A village of 36 units was built and quickly populated with locals, before we started attracting people from other parts of WA and even the eastern states,” says David.

Amaroo is a community-based charitable organisation so it is important to consider the invaluable part played by its volunteer base of some 140 people, “who make a tremendous contribution to the life and well-being of our residents.” There is no slackening-off of help, even in these difficult and cynical times, says David; there are many people who have finished working, done their tour around the country and are looking for something new. “So there is always an interest in people wanting to put something back into the community after they have retired and spend their time productively helping others. We have some volunteers who have been helping for more than 15 years and it is tremendous to see their contribution and what they have achieved in that time. We always welcome more volunteers.” A staff member is assigned to coordinate all volunteer activities, typically on a part-time basis which can be very flexible.

Alongside the volunteers are trained staff, many of them registered nurses, and David says Amaroo has not seen a problem in their recruitment or retention. Although pay levels are a shade lower than the rates paid at private hospitals, the gap has been closing in recent years. There is no way around it: “If you want good staff you have to pay for them and that is part of the issue that the government must recognise.” He points out that his staff, dedicated people, are not there just for the money – “they are here because they are passionate about working with older people” – but they have to be remunerated so the facilities can maintain their accreditation.

Despite the economic and political hurdles facing the aged care sector, Amaroo’s model is obviously working well, growing significantly in the last decade and spreading its footprint around the state. Can other organisations learn from its success? David is modest, but admits he has been approached by a number of local government authorities and other groups “to spread Amaroo around the state a bit more. But we are very conscious that if we are to survive we have to do it in a very carefully planned manner that does not threaten the sustainability of what we are doing. In any case, a CEO is only as good as his team and we have a fabulous management team, very professional and dedicated. Full credit goes to them and the staff who work for them.”

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 16, 2018, 3:55 PM AEDT