Aug 28, 2019

A CEO’s insights for bringing joy to life in aged care

One of Australia’s largest aged care providers has made bringing ‘joy’ to residents the cornerstone of everything it does.

The Chief Executive Officer of Opal Aged Care, Rachel Argaman, has told HelloCare she strongly believes living in aged care can be a joyous experience.

“I see it and hear of it in hundreds of positive stories which are shared with me and our team all the time,” she told HelloCare when we caught up at the Criterion Quality in Aged Care conference in Sydney this week. 

‘To give joy to those we care for’

Ms Argaman moved to Opal 12 months ago, from a career in the hospitality sector. When she began working with Opal, she drove a dynamic process of consultation and change.

Initially, she asked the staff to debate what they do and the way they do it.

“All agreed it’s rare to find work that is more important than the work we do. It’s rare to find work that is more rewarding than giving care, comfort and human connection. And it’s rare to find work that can be more heart rending, when someone you’ve grown close to passes away,” Ms Argaman told the conference.

With happiness stemming from good health, meaningful work or purpose, loving relationships, and a sense of community, Ms Argaman said those features must be the underpinnings of care and must inform Opal’s principles.

“If love, purpose and belonging is ‘joy’… then our purpose is ‘to give joy to those we care for’. And that is Opal’s purpose.”

Five pillars create lives of joy and meaning

Ms Argaman said Opal creates joy through its five pillars of:

  1. Purpose
  2. Self fulfillment and contribution
  3. Meaningful mates
  4. Anticipation
  5. Food for the soul

How to create joy: examples

Ms Argaman described some of the ways Opal is creating joy for residents.

Virtual reality

Virtual Reality is in every home so residents can go virtually ‘to Paris’, or to a museum, or even back to their childhood village and walk the streets. Augmented Reality is also being rolled out for additional experiential experiences. 


Many homes have real pets – cats, dogs, chickens, and every home has robotic pets – two cats and a dog – which are particularly popular with residents who are living with dementia.  

Wellness Centre

Some Opal homes have Wellness Centres, where residents participate in individual reablement programs that help them retain their independence. “This kind of therapy has both clinical and social benefits that are truly wonderful to see,” Ms Argman said.


Opal’s Blacktown Choir tours Opal homes in Sydney, the local hospital, and schools. They perform original songs, written with the help of a music therapist, which have been published in a song book. “Watching our choir grow in confidence and enable others to connect through a shared love of music is truly inspiring,” Ms Argaman told HelloCare.

Meaningful Mates

The ‘Meaningful Mates’ program is having an “unbelievable impact on both our residents and carers alike”, Ms Argaman said. The ‘buddy’ program means every resident has a team member who is a meaningful ‘mate’, who spends one-on-one time with them every shift they work. “We’re seeing incredible friendships budding,” Ms Argaman said.

Wishing Well

Each home has a ‘wishing well’ whereby people put in wishes from their bucket list and we make one of these come true for a resident in each of Opal’s 77 homes every month.


If residents are doing art, they stage an annual art auction to look forward to, or a market day, or annual dog show for those who like pets.


Food is a source of great joy for many people, so Opal is focused on delivering the best possible food it can.

“We have a qualified chef in every home, cooking fresh food from scratch every day, and engaging with residents to understand what types of food they enjoy and creating menus that reflect the preferences of our residents.

We recently held a texture modified food competition, where the meals produced were so visually appealing and tasty that we now have residents choosing those meals over the regular meals.

We also hold cooking classes where residents can share their favourite foods and how to make them and recently produced a cookbook of residents favourite recipes.”

Ms Argaman told the conference audience, “We all agreed that clinical excellence is absolutely foundational. The clinical care we give to people is the firm basis on which we build, but if we can’t add love, and purpose and a sense of belonging then we are not giving all of person care.”

“The small moments of joy that happen every day in every home are so vital to enabling people to have a reason to get up in the morning and live with meaning.”

Customer centered

Opal has welcomed the introduction of the new person-centered quality standards.

“We have welcomed them and they align with Opal’s culture and approach,” she said.

“They have required significant changes to our systems and documentation processes so that we can capture all that we are doing and hold us to the highest standard.”

“Putting our customers at the centre of what we do means that at every decision point we always – first and foremost – consider their needs and preferences,” Ms Argaman said.

“Last year we mapped our customer journey, tracking every interaction from their very first contact with Opal right through the care journey, to learn how we can improve our care and create a better, more individualised experience for each customer.

“We’re now transforming our systems and processes, and implementing a customer relationship management system that will ultimately free up more time for care. 

“We’re also introducing a Voice of the Customer program using technology to enable ‘always on’ customer connection and insights. By deeply getting to know our customers, and making it easy for them to provide direct and ongoing feedback about their experience with Opal, we are using their insights to inform our care and service delivery.”

Barriers to change?

“Changing culture can be challenging in any sector,” Ms Argaman told HelloCare. 

“We are very deliberate in building our culture by design, not by default. We began by defining our purpose, which is ‘to bring joy to those we care for’”

“Our team has been extraordinarily receptive to our purpose, it is a powerful point of alignment for us.”

Culture change is a continual process, she said, and it’s guided by the organisation’s reference points of compassion, accountability, respect and excellence.

The importance of language

“For all of us, articulating who we are, what we do, and how we do it is fundamental to our culture, it speaks to our culture and our intent, and, most importantly, it speaks to our values,” Ms Argaman said. 

“The language we choose is critical.”

Following consultation, staff agreed they would use specific language.

  • ‘Facilities’ become ‘homes’ or ‘care homes’. 
  • ‘Facility managers’ become ‘general managers’. 
  • Staff don’t ‘do things to people’, they ‘assist’ people with things. 
  • Opal doesn’t ‘decamp’ people, it relocates them to their new home. 
  • ‘Staff’ and ‘employees’ become ‘teams’, ‘team members’, and ‘colleagues’. 
  • They work in the ‘care sector’.
  • They talk about care happening ‘with’ residents, not ‘to’ them. 

“Our language is the golden thread that weaves through our culture and ‘the way we do things around here’,” Ms Argaman said.

Ensuring the team’s on board

Opal has also developed a strong focus on developing its team, for example with a future leadership program, and graduate nurse and scholarship programs.

Every employee has had a career pathway mapped out for them, developing leaders, and teams are recognised and rewarded.

The team’s dementia capabilities are being developed through Montessori dementia training.

‘To give joy to those we care for’

Opal’s purpose – ‘to give joy to those we care for’ – has been “embraced” across all levels of the organisation. “All of the organisation’s 9,000 employees know their purpose,” Ms Argaman said.

“It informs everything we do.”


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