Australian Ageing Agenda recently asked four aged care CEOs what COVID-19 has taught them about how to respond to an emergency and leadership.

In the first part of this report, Rachel Argaman, CEO of Opal Aged Care, and Marcus Riley, CEO of BallyCara, share their responses.

Re-evaluate your priorities

COVID-19 has caused a re-evaluation of priorities and what really matters, writes Rachel Argaman.

When faced with an emergency the power of the human spirit to rise to the occasion is truly extraordinary. We’ve seen this among our team at Opal, not only during COVID-19 but over Christmas and the New Year when some of our care communities were impacted by the devastating bushfires in NSW and Victoria. Our learnings from the bushfires carried through to COVID-19.

Rachel Argaman

I have always believed that leaders act in ways that get things done. Teams and individuals across Opal leaned into the crisis and have been engaged seven days a week focusing on what is most important – the safety and happiness of our residents, and how to nurture the human connection that lies at the heart of human wellbeing.

Our strong foundations have stood us in good stead. Last year we updated our infection control manual and increased infection control training in our homes. We were able to activate rapid and expansive testing and contact tracing, and we had a backbone of great data capture and reporting systems in place that enabled us to make decisions quickly and with an evidence base.

Communication was a number one priority. Never underestimate the amount of communication necessary to ensure that everyone who needs to be is kept informed, reassured, across developments as they happen, and has someone on the team they can call or talk with directly. I’ve always found that people are receptive when communication is open and transparent – it is the only way to lead others through a constantly changing and anxious situation.

Following the bushfires, where we evacuated one home and sheltered in place at two others, we had put in place communication teams in every care home. These were ramped up quickly and effectively through COVID-19. We’ve also learned a great deal from this that is changing our customisation of our customer experience system.

For example, historically we’ve only had one main point of contact per resident, but needing to communicate through both the bushfires, and having different visitor arrangements through COVID-19, means that we’re now building a “family tree” of contacts, so that if there are five children and one partner we can update everyone rather than expect one main contact to make five different calls.

We also rapidly increased the number of iPads available to residents in each home to enable virtual visits with family and friends. Technology will never be able to give someone a hug, but for many families even though they will still visit regularly, the joy of face-timing each evening to say goodnight, of Zooming with family for an occasion that would otherwise have been missed, will forever change the quality of connection for the people and families we look after. 

COVID time has also meant that all of us have re-evaluated our priorities and what really matters in life.  At the end of the day that is simple: People matter. And through this time our Opal team proved over and over that our teams can turn the coronavirus pandemic into a kindness pandemic. For me it has been the living proof of a saying I believe in with all my heart: Companies don’t succeed, people do.

Rachel Argaman is CEO of Opal Aged Care

Engage, observe and listen

It is important to invest time engaging, observing and hearing your people, writes Marcus Riley.

There have certainly been key learnings for all of us in leadership positions through the period of the pandemic.

Take time is one. There is always time to collect your thoughts, listen to what others have provided before making a decision. That time may only be a matter of minutes or hours but it is of great value to have those moments to consider your options.

Marcus Riley

Recognising when you need to make decisions and provide clear direction is another. Plus identifying when you need to step forward and decisively lead and when it is time to step back and empower others to step up.

Invest time engaging with your people, and observe and listen to your people to understand about the pace your working at and the impact on the team. Then adjust the pace when needed so people are not being burnt out and individually people are providing their best input.

In an emergency phase it is important to be across the detail. It is important to listen.  Ideally plans and resources have been prepared but these may need to be adapted pending changing circumstances.

It is vital to appreciate individuals have circumstances away from work that will differ and impact and these must be supported.

Whilst serious circumstances are being managed and assessed it is still necessary to look for humour and share a laugh as a team, as colleagues. We can’t let the situation become all consuming.

Be willing to recognise examples to draw on from different sources.

For instance, a conversation with two male residents during the early weeks of the COVID-19 when there was much angst and uncertainty in the community was shared with our team and used as inspiration. 

Both men provided great perspective in their own casual way about a calm approach, ability to adapt and drew on their previous experiences through their lives that demonstrated great resilience.  

Their words resonated with us and had a positive impact on our own thinking about work and our personal lives.

Marcus Riley is CEO of BallyCara

In the next part of this report, Doreen Power, CEO of Lyndoch Living, and Jennifer Lawrence, CEO of Brightwater Care Group, share their learnings.

The full version of the article appears in current AAA magazine (July-Aug 2020).

Comment below to have your say on this story. Subscribe to Australian Ageing Agenda magazine and sign up to the AAA newsletter

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.