As part of Australian Ageing Agenda’s special report on rural and remote aged care, we present two case studies of providers delivering innovative and successful programs in their regions.

‘Injecting new skills into remote areas’
The Whiddin Group program is bringing new RNs into regional areas
The Whiddin Group program is bringing new RNs into regional areas

The Whiddon Group, a large provider operating across NSW, is progressing with a number of programs and partnerships that bolster staffing and resourcing at its rural and remote services.

The provider is currently exploring the use of secondments as a way of offering metropolitan-based employees an experience of working at its rural and remote services.

“Secondments offer a range of benefits for staff across the organisation,” says CEO Lee-ann Irwin. “This includes training and development opportunities for rural and remote teams, allowing metro-based staff to experience the other side of our operations, developing teamwork across services and departments, and increasing understanding about the various challenges that each service faces based on their geographic location.”

Secondments are currently offered for registered nurses, directors and deputy directors, catering staff and chefs, and osteopaths, she says.

Irwin says that for many of Whiddon’s remote services, accessing appropriately skilled staff and service providers is a challenge. To overcome this, the organisation has found that partnerships are proving beneficial.

For example, it has partnered with the Replay Groups’ Indigenous Program, which supports indigenous people to undertake training in child care and aged care.

“We currently have 13 Replay trainees employed in residential aged care across NSW. Trainees are provided with specialised small group training in Whiddon residential services throughout NSW and achieve Level III certification through the Replay Group.  At the end of their training, they are offered ongoing work with our aged care services either where they trained, or in their local communities,” says Irwin.

Another program, Transcend, has also enabled Whiddon to build partnerships across aged care and education providers. Importantly, it is also getting new RNs into remote areas.

Whiddon has offered the program, which provides paid on-the-job learning and placements for graduate RNs across residential and in-home care, over the past three years.

As well as promoting good practice in nurse training and developing career pathways in aged care, the graduate program has enabled Whiddon to inject new skills into the remote areas where it operates, says Irwin. “We have placed RNs in both Condobolin and Wee Waa as a result of the program, as well as in areas such as Maclean, Redhead and Glenfield.”

Over the last three years, 64 new graduates have been through Whiddon’s program, with 36 graduates employed by the provider at the completion of the program.

While initially funded under a three-year grant from the government, Whiddon is continuing to run a version of Transcend.

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Power of learning
Staff at Emerton Park recognised for their education and training efforts
Staff at Emmerton Park recognised for their education and training efforts

They may be working in a remote location, but that doesn’t mean staff at Emmerton Park aren’t accessing the latest thinking in aged care practice and policy.

In fact, of the 91 staff working at Emmerton Park in far north-west Tasmania, 42 are undertaking or have completed studies at certificate III and IV level (in areas such as aged care, allied health, mental health, palliative care and commercial cookery) and at diploma level (in areas such as management, nursing and care coordination).

Of the 14 volunteers who assist at Emmerton, five are undertaking further qualifications, while 14 non-nursing staff are currently fulfilling mentoring and leadership roles within the organisation.

This “culture of learning” may go some way to explaining why the provider has enjoyed a staff retention rate of 94 per cent over the past 12 months.

“Emmerton Park recognised the need to develop our own staff to ensure we have a sustainable workforce into the future,” says CEO Robert Barden.

“Our remote location, far from being a barrier to success, drives innovative thinking that results in the recognition awarded to Emmerton Park over the past years,” he says. This recognition includes the ACSA National Organisation Award 2013, the ACST Tasmanian Organisation Award in 2011 and 2012, and a Better Practice award in 2012.

“We promote a culture of learning and recognise that development of our staff and volunteers is integral to our succession planning, people retention, developing leaders and mentors, and establishing career pathways,” says Barden.

Like many providers, Emmerton Park has an ageing clinical workforce. In response, the organisation in 2009 established a scholarship to assist carers and enrolled nurses to advance their qualifications.

“The program is available to our employees whereby we financially assist the employee to undertake their Bachelor of Nursing or Diploma of Nursing conditional upon continued employment with Emmerton Park following graduation. Since implementing the program, three employees have successfully completed their Bachelor of Nursing qualification and four have completed their Diploma of Nursing giving us a self-sufficient clinical workforce,” says Barden.

Read AAA’s special report: rural and remote aged care

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