The Caring Age

Aged Care Developments

It’s no secret. By 2050, a quarter of the people of Australia will be aged 65 or over. So it hardly requires a crystal ball to see that the market for services and facilities for the elderly is only going to grow in the coming years.

Indeed it already has, and in the past five years the number of companies setting up or expanding their aged care provisions has mushroomed. One of those companies is Aged Care Developments, the brainchild of Mark Selby-Hele, which designs and builds complete, turnkey residential aged care facilities for clients with the finance but without the specialist knowledge of what is needed.

It’s that in-depth knowledge of what an aged care home (be it low care or more intensive, even Alzheimer’s care) needs that sets Mark’s company apart, for he and his team have been in this business for a relatively long time, with more than 20 years’ building experience in the aged care sector. Far from being an opportunist, Mark is taking advantage of the demographic swing toward an ageing population and providing a service and product which will be of increasing value over the coming decades. Moreover, he is able to provide the industry with invaluable experience in this field.

The company began by ‘just’ building aged care facilities but, Mark says, “about ten years ago we embarked on the in house design option as well. We can provide a one-stop-shop service for aged care operators interested in great value for their money, without having to spend [excessively] on just the design aspects before going through the tender process with builders.”

Aged Care Developments, based in Seaford, Victoria, between Melbourne and the resort of the Mornington Peninsula, grew out of a regular building business (MKH, which remains the proprietary name for any non-aged care work Mark undertakes). He is a carpenter by background and a registered commercial and residential builder. He first dipped a toe in the aged care sector in 1990 with a single project, a 40-bed facility that kept him personally busy for nearly a year. “Since then we have specialised in it,” he shares.

So the way the industry is moving should make conditions about as perfect as a builder ever sees? Yes and no, says Mark. With the growth comes more intense competition and there are a lot of larger construction companies looking at the sector, especially in times which are trying for other sectors. There is profit to be had, but it’s not unlimited. “My observation of aged care is that it is not an industry you can get rich quickly from, if that is your motive for wanting to get into it. Fortunately most of the people we have done work for are owner-operators who have mainly come from the private sector part of residential aged care.”

This sector is comprised largely of two distinct elements: faith-based charitable organisations and private operators who have traditionally been family businesses – typically the wife as facility manager or DON with the husband looking after the administration. However, says Mark, this model has largely disappeared in the last decade, to be replaced by larger private sector companies, some of them publicly listed, who often have multiple facilities in their portfolio and are looking for long-term expansion. Do the maths – if you can plan for long term returns rather than a quick buck, this is a remarkably safe industry in terms of both its stability over time and its profitability.

“It’s a big industry,” Mark acknowledges. “There are a lot of people trying to derive an income and get work from it and we can fill a niche for some potential clients who are interested in the product and service we offer. I don’t specifically accept everything that comes through the door – we are a specialist company and we would prefer to concentrate our efforts on service and outcomes rather than volume.” ACD is most comfortable with complete greenfield projects around the 90 to 150 bed size, or a new extension or renovation to an existing facility, rather than concentrating our efforts on large-scale maintenance of homes across the state – providing that kind of service would “take us away from our bread and butter and what we most enjoy doing.”

These aged care residences are, for most of those who live in them, the final address they will have, which makes it even more important that they should feel comfortable and be accommodated in very well-equipped homes. (This is not the same as the ‘retirement village’ concept which in any case is less popular around Victoria than in, say, Queensland with its somewhat more predictable climate.) Mark points out that the building is only a part of the story. “You can have a great building which is well appointed, but if the level of care the residents are receiving is not comparable, it will not be a great fit.”

Mark’s longest and biggest client relationship has been with TLC Aged Care, a family owned business focussed on providing ‘Tender Loving Aged Care’ to older Victorians. TLC Aged Care operates ten homes in Melbourne and Geelong and is owned by John and Jenny Leaper. They started the business with just one home more than 20 years ago; the business now employs more than 1,300 staff across the ten homes. “Watching their business grow, I am proud to be able to say we have built all the facilities that they currently own and operate.”

The Leapers are not endangered, but there are not so many of them and the industry is moving increasingly into the sights of the investor. “[The Leapers] were typical of the clientele we used to have; we continue to do design work for them which will lead to more construction work in the future for them and others like them, but the [investment company] is the type of player coming into the industry, which will become for us our next ‘typical’ client.” They, too, will be looking for roughly the same product – well-built, modern and thoughtfully arranged facilities with minimal maintenance requirement which will perform well throughout the life of the building.

Mark says the design itself has progressed from earlier layouts that were more motel-style to today’s more hotel-like living conditions. “Rather than being aged care specific, it has taken on more of a ‘hospitality’ feel, because you are not just trying to market an aged care facility, it’s a lifestyle as well,” where residents can come into a facility even if only one person in a couple needs care. Aged Care Developments’ most recent completed project, Ti Tree Lodge at Rosebud (a 168 bed multi-level facility with an area of approximately 10,000 square metres) is “very much a hospitality based service; that is the approach our client wanted us to create for his clientele coming from a retirement village environment to the new aged care facility.”

Both the size and sophistication of the aged care home is changing fast. Mark’s first project was a 40 bed facility with communal showers and toilets; now single bedrooms with ensuites are the rule, as well as some twin and multiple rooms as not everyone wants to be in a room alone. There is also a much more thoughtful approach to the treatment and care of dementia residents alongside more able bodied residents.

Mark and his team at Aged Care Developments can draw up something suitable for almost every level of entity interested in aged care. He even has contacts that might help with finance, although most clients come with financial backing already arranged. In fact, it’s fair to say no one knows better how to ‘do’ aged care.

For more information about Aged Care Developments, please visit http://www.agedcaredev.com.au/.

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?

June 21, 2018, 1:16 AM AEST