An aged care program for older people with complex mental health needs, many of whom have been turned away from other facilities, has been announced as among the nominees for this year’s HESTA Aged Care Awards.

Catholic Healthcare’s Charles O’Neill Hostel, based in Newcastle, is one of five finalists in the Team Innovation category, recognised for its program A Safe Place to Call Home, which provides tailored support services for the elderly with mental illness.

Over the last eight years, Charles O’Neill hostel has worked closely with other specialist mental health services in the region. It employs a registered nurse with extensive mental health experience and through partnerships with Lifeline and TAFE NSW, staff members regularly attend education and training courses in aged care and supporting people with mental illness.

Kristen Grainger, residential manager, said almost three quarters of the hostel’s residents suffered from at least one mental health disorder and many required significant behavioural support.

“The care team recognises that many people with mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, personality disorder and depression were being turned away from other facilities in the region,” Ms Grainger said.

“In some cases, residents were transferred from other aged care facilities that were unable to support these residents appropriately. Most recently, new residents have transitioned to the hostel from a local boarding house which closed. Without the hostel, these people would have had no other place to live.”

Small-scale living allows for more independence

Another finalist is the Synovum Care Group, nominated for the Outstanding Organisation award in recognition of their innovative care model which allows residents, including those with dementia, to live in small-scale houses.

Each house accommodates seven people and residents have full access to all areas of the home. With the support of staff, residents are free to carry out their own everyday tasks, such as laundry, grocery shopping, gardening and cooking.

“The houses include a fully-functional kitchen and laundry, an open-plan lounge and dining room, and a front door which allows residents the freedom to come and go in the outdoor spaces,” said Natasha Chadwick, managing director.

“The ability to leave through the front door whenever they choose removes some of the frustration that some residents feel in a traditional aged care setting.”

Synovum Care has trialled two of the houses at their Wynyard Care Centre in Tasmania and is planning to build an estate with 17 houses in Queensland.

Ms Chadwick said residents with dementia who are living in the houses have shown less of the responsive behaviours they demonstrated in the traditional aged care setting and in some cases, responsive behaviours have disappeared altogether.

“We believe small-scale living provides residents with greater independence and allows them to live as normal a life as possible,” she said.

Culturally appropriate care for Chinese-Australians

Henry Pan, the honorary executive director of the Chinese Australian Services Society, is one of five finalists in the Individual Distinction category. He has been recognised for his 35 years of work establishing aged care facilities that cater for Chinese-Australians across Sydney and Wollongong.

Mr Pan’s work came from a realisation that many Chinese seniors had a desire to maintain their cultural identity and lifestyle. A lack of culturally appropriate aged care services forced families to take on caring responsibilities and many were struggling.

Mr Pan first lobbied for the opening of a hostel in Croydon in the 1980s and has since opened seven aged care day centres, as well as a residential facility in Campsie earlier this year.

“There was a need for centres that understood the cultural backgrounds of Chinese Australians — what they wanted to eat, through to the kind of recreational activities they enjoyed,” Mr Pan said.

“We now run residential and home care services that allow older members of our community to lead dignified lives. Our services also cater to Korean Australians and others from south-east Asian backgrounds.

“Our aim is to reduce social isolation so our seniors live a healthy lifestyle, in a respectful environment.”

Recognising outstanding innovation and leadership

The winners from amongst the 15 finalists will be announced at the HESTA Aged Care Awards dinner on Thursday 27 August. The winner of each category will share in $30,000 a prize pool provided by sponsor, ME.

The Team Innovation and Outstanding Organisation Award winners each receive a $10,000 development grant. The Individual Distinction Award winner will receive a $5,000 ME EveryDay transaction account and $5,000 towards further education.

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