The transition to aged care is a difficult time, not only for the person who is going into care, but also for family, who are often burdened with feelings of guilt.
With the aged care sector receiving unprecedented negative media attention during the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, the move might seem particularly trying at the moment.
But this week I attended the opening of Opal Winston Hills, and was reminded that, despite the steady drip of bad news flowing from the royal commission, there are also high-quality and compassionate aged care services being delivered every day in Australia.
There will always be some people for which residential aged care is a necessity, and for these people it is so important that we recognise and talk about the good work being done in the sector.
Opal Winston Hills is a brand new, purpose-built aged care facility in the heart of western Sydney. The facility is luxurious, and the staff stood out to me for their caring and compassionate attitude not only to the residents, but to all who attended the opening.
The member for Seven Hills, the Hon Mark Taylor MP and Cr Bill Tyrell from City of Parramatta Council officially opened the facility, but it was residents Tony and Joan who shone the brightest during proceedings.
I managed to catch up with Tony and Joan once their official duties were over.
Opal Winston Hills opened in August 2019, and Tony was its first male resident.
Tony soon began attending a local mens’ shed, for some male company, but he also joined Opal Winston Hills’ social committee and he sits on interview panels when new staff are being recruited. Tony, who is the father of ten children, provides valuable feedback to management about how he thinks the applicants will bond with residents and whether or not he thinks they will fit in with the other staff.
Tony, who lives in the memory support unit, is also the resident mailman at Opal Winston Hills. He attends pottery classes and helps with the on-site vegetable garden.
Dressed for the occasion in a smart suit and tie, Tony smiled broadly all the time I spoke to him. “I’m happy,” he told me.
Joan is the resident model at Opal Winston Hills. With her sparkling blue eyes, winning smile and lively manner, it’s easy to see why photographers would gravitate towards her.
“I love it here,” Joan told me as we chatted over a delicious morning tea.
The only difficulties she experienced in the transition to age care were on the first night. “The first night was hard,” she admitted. But the next day she met more of the other residents and staff, and was immediately reassured.
“Everyone is just family now,” she said. “It’s a home away from home.”
As Joan’s daughter, Sharon, sat beside her, I could sense how comforted she was to see her mother so full of vitality and being placed centre-stage during the proceedings.
“She’s not lonely here,” Sharon said, when I asked her about Joan’s adjustment to living in residential aged care.
“If she was in her house, she would be on her own. There’s a real sense of community here,” Sharon explained.
Along with Tony, Joan is on Opal Winston Hills’ social committee, and she also helps to organise bi-weekly film nights. She’s started a knitting club, and is in the process of making a scarf for one of Tony’s many grandchildren.
Joan was keen to explain how good the food is too, pointing out that every day residents can choose what they want to eat from a menu. Joan said she likes to have her breakfast brought to her in her room each morning, whereas Tony prefers to get up and eat in the dining room with the other residents.
Joan has difficulty breathing, and has had trouble with her legs. She receives physiotherapy support twice a day, and foot massages daily.
Opal Winston Hills has been purpose built within the grounds of The Willows Retirement Village. Opened in August 2019, the home is currently at 60 per cent capacity, and filling quickly.
The facilities include a hairdresser, cutting-edge rehabilitation facilities, a memory support wing and memory garden, and companion rooms.
To help new residents with the transition to aged care, Opal has developed two video tools to provide prospective clients and their families with some of the information they need. The videos, ‘Navigating Aged Care’ and ‘Fees and Charges Explained’, are available on the company’s website.
After the function, I had some trouble finding the carpark and ended up in the kitchen. I asked the first person I saw for directions. He immediately stopped what he was doing, and chaperoned me to the carpark entrance.
The interaction was typical of everyone I spoke to at Opal. There was a genuine warmth and desire to help that I saw not only in the staff’s engagement with residents, but also in the way they spoke to everyone.
For those considering the move to aged care, either for themselves or for a loved one, it’s important to hear the positive stories, of expert care, where residents can engage in meaningful activities, where they can pursue their own interests, and where they are valued and well cared for by genuinely compassionate staff. “A home away from home”, as Joan says.
Main image: Joan, with her daughter, Sharon. Supplied.