The Comfort of Familiarity: Diem’s Story

As Australians, it can be relatively easy to take the amazing things that we have for granted.

Clean air, high standard health services, and a docile political climate accompanied by a wealth of employment opportunities, all take place against a stunning backdrop of wide-open spaces that contain some of the most stunning natural beauty on earth.

For those observing from the corners of the globe, Australia would seem like an oasis, and well deserving of the moniker ‘The Lucky Country.’

Over the years there have been numerous countries affected by the horrors of oppression and war, and one of those countries was Vietnam. The ten year period following the war (1975-1985) saw an influx of Vietnamese refugees head to Australian shores looking for peace and opportunity, and one of these brave soles was ‘Diem.’

Ngoc Diem Nguyen, 74, arrived on Australian shores over 35 years ago, yet unlike a number of refugees, Diem was able to speak both French and English. And although English was not his strongest language, he knew enough to be able to communicate.

As the years went by Diem was lucky enough to raise a family, and like a number of families with a traditional Vietnamese background, Diem’s family took on the role of providing him with care as he began to grow older.

Unfortunately financial requirements in 2018 make it increasingly difficult for families to be able to keep someone at home to look after an older family member, so in Diem’s case, and many other households; his children had to go to work, leaving him home alone to look after himself.

“I usually slept in, and when I woke up I was confused about when I should be taking my medication,” said Diem.

After much soul searching, Diem’s children decided that the best thing that they could do for their father was find a residential aged care facility, but they had no idea that the home that they would eventually stumble upon would turn out to be such a familiar environment for their father.

The Mekong facility in Cairnlea was founded by the Indochinese Elderly Refugees Association and is an extremely unique example of the depth of thinking required to meet the aged care needs of all Australians.

This is a facility staffed by employees with a Vietnamese background, is fitted with traditional Vietnamese decor and provides a Vietnamese menu for its majority Vietnamese resident community.

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This is what is known as culturally specific care.

“Before moving here, my children drove me to other places. But they seemed not suitable for me,” said Diem.

Every nation boasts a multitude of nuanced traditions and habits that have been ingrained in their culture, in the case of Vietnamese residents, a number of their traditions are rather different to those within average Australian culture.

These types of differences may not seem very consequential to the average person, but the elderly can suffer difficulties ranging from memory loss and confusion through to feelings of isolation because of language barriers.

This is what makes facilities like Mekong so special to the residents that call these places home.

“I feel so comfortable. Here is like my big family. Every morning when I wake up, I feel happier than I did at home,” said Diem.

“Here I am looked after, especially when I need to take my medication. That’s why I love living here.”

Mekong Cairnlea have recently employed the services of Vative Healthcare & Nursing Academy in order to bolster the skills of the workforce in the facility.

While most employees do speak english, Vietnamese is actually their first language, but Vative see this as a challenge rather than an obstacle.

The program brings to light not only the development of skills but also; perspective and critical thinking, so that change of practice is redesigned around the needs of the resident.  

Care Value is showcased and the importance of spending creative and quality time with residents to improve any issues around loneliness as well as promoting aspects of movement, nutrition and fun.

Vative,CEO, Carmie Walker believes that training staff for cultural specific care facilities is an opportunity to teach as well as an opportunity to adapt their training methods to learn and evolve.

And that employees who are trained in the right way have the ability to deliver care in the right way, and build strong bonds with residents.

“Firstly you need people with the right attitude, then you need to give them the right set of skills. The systems we use are flexible but always focused on best practise, and in a place like Mekong, we had to utilise research to find out what best practise in a predominantly Vietnamese aged care facility is,” said Carmie

“Training employees in skills that are relevant to their specific facility has a major effect on the quality of care that they can give, and the residents can feel it. This eventually translates into stronger bonds between employees and residents.

If a bond between resident and aged care employee is any indication of high quality care, it should be no surprise as to why Diem speaks about the Mekong Cairnlea facility in such high regard. As he has made it very clear how much he appreciates Ms Chau for everything that she does for him.

“Most of the people here are so nice and kind, especially Ms Chau. She takes care of me in the morning and she helps me with everything like making my bed and helping me to sit up,” said Diem.

“It’s so hard to sit up by myself. Ms Chau has helped me a lot with everything and I appreciate that.”

Having the ability to deliver quality aged care is dependant on the quality of staff that a facility has at its disposal. And one of the major components of staff quality starts in the foundations of their training.

Vative’s adaptive approach to providing aged care training has ensured that employees like Ms Chau have a solid skill-set that is suitable for a unique environment like Mekong.

And these skills have translated into the level of high quality care that has residents like Diem feeling happier in an aged care facility than he did in his family home.

Examples like this are a stark reminder that people’s needs change as they grow older, meaning that ‘home’ is not necessarily just a house where your family members live, home is actually where you feel the most comfortable.


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  1. I really love the way you have captured the perspective of Diem who now lives at Mekong IERA in Cairnlea. Also the look from Diem to Ms Chau is so beautiful we discussed this in our class with the staff from IERA on 17/01/19. They are so proud and love their residents.


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