Kerrie Lavery is the CEO of Parkglen. Having worked in aged care for over 15 years this is her story.
Soon after I married, my husband was transferred to Whyalla, which is a country town in South Australia, about 4-hours northwest of Adelaide. I had a background in Marketing before moving, and I landed the job as the Arts Manager for Country Arts South Australia. Very different to aged care.
I was managing performing art centres so I did a lot of travelling, all while bringing up 4 children. I was then approached by Whyalla Aged Care, as they were looking for a new CEO, and they invited me to apply for the position. My initial motivation to apply for the job was that it would be one that didn’t involve as much travel. But I also had an interest in aged care.
I had a dramatic career change. I started one month before the new Aged Care Act was introduced in 1997 – so that was a baptism of fire. A lot of things changed with the introduction of that new Aged Care Act and I had make sure that the organisation was ready for those changes in a very short period of time.
Whyalla Aged Care had a nursing home, 2 hostels, a retirement village and an home care program – and I loved it. From the very first day I loved it. I was with them for a couple of years, and then my family were transferred back to Melbourne. After that I worked as the Residential Care Manager for Knox Council.
I then moved to Parkglen. Initially I came in as the Manager of the village and was later promoted to the role of CEO. In my time I helped develop the home care packages programme.
I am a female CEO surrounded by male CEOs. I think it’s always been difficult for women. Even in aged care, which tends to have a predominantly female labour force, there are definitely more men in senior positions than women – but you can’t let that challenge you. I believe things are gradually changing for women. I think women make great CEOs because they bring empathy, as well as business intelligence to the role – both are needed in this industry.
It’s just having older family members around us. At the time that I was tapped on the shoulder [by Whyalla Aged Care] I had a family member whose health was deteriorating with dementia. As she was in Adelaide, we would go down quite often and spend time with her and the family – and we saw how difficult that process was for other members of our family.
I helped find a nursing home and that process made me want to find the very best care, because they were so special to the family. Seeing a lot of facilities that did not impress me made me more of an advocate for her.
Whenever we make decisions at work for our residents and our clients, we always think “would this be good enough for my mum or my dad?” and if it’s not, then we have to rethink what we are doing.
Society can often undervalue the elderly. I think what society does is make too many assumptions. It assumes that older people are just people that need to be given things and that they are not capable of giving back. And that’s a really poor assumption to make. Older people have a lot to offer.
We’ve had some amazing clients. I once had a resident who had swam the English Channel. If you really do get to know your clients, you learn their stories. You don’t have to wait till their funeral to hear those stories. So when we get a new client, especially in those initial conversations we try to learn and understand what’s really important to them, what are the things in their life that are valuable and memorable – and then build on that. Through that you develop rapport and empathy.
There are many memorable clients who have really taught me so much over my career. I had one client, a gentleman who was well known in society, well connected and had lots of friends – who suffered a great loss. His son, who was in his sixties, suddenly died in the bathroom of the family home. And I remember watching this old man cry, him holding my hand and telling me “no one should ever have to lose a child”. That moment really moved me, he was quite elderly and even at that older age he grieved as if he was losing a small child. It reminded me that it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can still feel grief.
We have one lady, who doesn’t speak very much and she has numerous health problems. She was assaulted in her home in a home invasion in 2013, she describes herself as positive and happy – this is someone that is in continuous pain. I think there is so much to learn from that, stop being miserable in your life and focus on the positives. This woman starts each day telling herself “I am positive, I am happy”.
I’ve definitely learnt a lot from working with older people. What I really admire are those who are independent and what you learn from them is that you just don’t give up. Life knocks you down and you get back up and keep moving forward.
What I like most about working in aged care, is that it’s not like working in other jobs. Sometimes I go home, and it’s not everyday, but sometimes I tell myself “you know what? today I made a difference in someone’s life.” You don’t get that in a lot of jobs, but you do get that from engaging with people and being a part of their life.
The new challenge for us is to make sure that with all the changes that have occurred with home care packages, we are still a provider of choices and to grow that part of our business (Parkglen Home Care Services). The other challenge is when managing a retirement village (Parkglen Retirement Community) that is over 30 years old, it is to manage in such a way that it is considered a fabulous place for people to live. Making sure people can live confidently, whilst being comfortable and safe.