It takes a VILLAGE
2019 Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year, NATASHA CHADWICK, is revolutionising aged care-all because she backed herself against the odds.
I kept asking myself over and over again: what type of residential care would I want for my mum if it ever came to it?
I kept asking myself over and over again: what type of residential care would I want for my mum if it ever came to it? After working in the aged-care industry for about 18 years at that time, I realised the care I would want for her didn’t actually exist. It was a shock to the system to arrive at the conclusion that we didn’t (and still don’t) do aged and dementia care at all well in Australia. Well, not in the way that it needs to be done. This is by no means an Australia-only problem. It’s common to every country in the world.
From this moment onwards, my career took a different path – one which led to the world’s first microtown residential community for seniors with complex care needs, including dementia and younger people living with dementia.
Pioneering radical change is nothing new to me; in fact, it has been one of the defining characteristics of a career that has so far spanned nearly 25 years, where I have focused tirelessly on innovation and change management within the aged-care landscape.
I realised if I wanted to see radical change in my industry I had to be the one to bring it about. Incremental changes would be too slow, so I had to come up with a breakthrough solution that would turn the industry on its head to give senior citizens and those living with dementia the high-quality care they deserve.
I embarked on an intense period of research that involved investigating how health systems, both here and abroad, treat senior citizens and people living with dementia, noting what worked and what didn’t. I also reviewed university studies and reports on the treatment and care of people living with dementia which confirmed what I already knew and was seeing. Namely, that institutional care has an adverse effect, and that people often remain happier if they are supported to be as independent as possible for as long as possible. My thoughts at this time were also guided by the many conversations I had over the years with residents in aged care. Working in this industry has put
“Residents are placed in homes according to their lifestyle and values, who they are as individuals and sorts of people they will get on best with”
me in a privileged position where people coming to the end of their life have shared stories with me about what’s important to them at that stage. They told me they want to live in their homes and, if not, then something as close to their home environment as possible – while also staying in touch with their community or being part of another community.
I trialled a pilot microtown model in Tasmania in 2014. Instead of constructing large institutional aged-care buildings that house 100 or more residents, we constructed two homes to house a handful of residents who lived together.
Following the success of this project, I started to develop NewDirection Care’s (NDC) microtown in Bellmere, Queensland, a small-scale living community that incorporates 17 domestic-style homes with seven residents per home and a town centre in a secure two-hectare site. This world-first in aged care opened in 2017 and is now home to 120 residents.
We do almost everything differently to other aged-care providers in this country. Unlike traditional institutionalised settings that strip people of their autonomy, this revolutionary aged-care microtown is a vibrant and inclusive community where residents socialise, pursue hobbies and continue to live the life they had before they needed care.
We have changed the way we look after the elderly forever by offering an entirely different kind of residential and nursing care. The homes look no different from those you will find on a typical suburban street, with back gardens and barbecues, front verandas, open-plan kitchens, sitting rooms and family dining rooms.
Residents are placed in homes according to their lifestyles and values, who they are as individuals and the sorts of people they will get on best with socially. They are not segregated according to their diagnosis.
Just like any suburban community, we have a town centre with a corner shop, café, cinema, beauty salon, GP, dentist and other facilities and amenities that are used by residents, their families, team members and the wider community. There are no locked or secure dementia units at NDC Bellmere, and residents can walk, explore and socialise as they wish throughout the community.
From our residents’ point of view, the most visible team members are the house companions. This is a multiskilled role we created that exists nowhere else in the aged-care industry. They form part of the ‘family’ unit of each home, providing assistance with daily activities such as cooking, personal care and medication administration. The house companions operate around residents, not dictating to them, and help them to plan their day-to-day routines, menus, activities and outings. They do not stay overnight but are a constant presence throughout the day.
Our team complement also includes visiting GPs, a dentist, podiatrist and massage therapist. On-site we have physiotherapists, exercise physiologists, physiotherapy assistants, an occupational therapist, a maintenance team including a gardener, an administration team, a hairdresser/barber, beauty therapists and a lifestyle team that performs several roles.
Incredible results have already been achieved, with Bellmere’s residents feeling more content, eating better, sleeping well, relying on less medications and enjoying greater engagement with their community. Extended family members of residents all give testament to improvements they have seen in their loves ones since they moved to Bellmere.
Being a game changer and shaking up an entire industry is not easy when you’re hit by a wall of inertia. It hasn’t been plain sailing and I’ve struggled to get support from my own industry even though many members recognise that significant change needs to happen now, not at some imaginary date in the future. Not surprisingly, there have been naysayers, doubters and some who are just resistant to change because they don’t want the status quo to be disturbed. But they have never troubled me, merely motivated me even more to succeed.
Like any start-up, some of the things we thought would work didn’t. We brainstormed, role-played a few ideas, and when we could see that they weren’t going to give us the results we wanted we dropped them. However, these experiences were invaluable to us because we learnt a lot from them.
One of the biggest personal challenges in the early stages of my career was having to content with ‘working mum’ guilt. Often I felt I wasn’t doing enough, being enough or helping out enough, worried about what I thought would be the negative consequences of my career on my children’s lives and the wellbeing of our family. This wasn’t a constant feeling. But it would definitely creep up on me every so often, a loud voice in my head telling me that by being away from my daughter and son I wasn’t doing my best for them and was letting them down. I used to best myself for being ‘selfish’ and the guilt played on me. I would always be asking myself the question; am I a bad
“One of the biggest lessons I have learnt is you have to back yourself before you can ask other people to back you”
mother for wanting a career? Dealing with working mum guilt wasn’t easy, but eventually I was able to overcome it. In part, this was by changing my mindset and realising, of course, there’s no such thing as the perfect mum, and I shouldn’t be so hard on myself for not living up to that unrealistic ideal.
One of the biggest lessons I have learnt is that you have to back yourself before you can ask other people to back you. You have to have confidence in yourself, your ideas and beliefs, and don’t let other people divert you from your path.
I am conscious that most great ideas remain dormant, so if you believe in making a change, you need to put in the time and resources, work with a trusted group of people, and take the steps to transition from ideation to execution; otherwise, nothing will ever change.
What we are doing is an absolute turnaround from traditional aged care and I do put that down, in part, to my ability to actually stop, rethink and relearn, and that comes from those early days of realising that if I wanted to change something I had to change the way I thought about it.
Being named the 2019 Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year was an absolute honour and a wonderful acknowledgement of what everyone who has been involved with NewDirection Care has achieved. The award has also provided us with valuable support as I start on the next chapter of growing NDC through our licenced NDC Way model. I am particularly happy about the win because it allows me to promote positive aspects of aged care along with my beliefs around dementia care, which are not always in tune with others in the industry.
Doing things differently hasn’t been easy. It I’d known how many hurdles I’d have to clear I might not have done it! You have to be resilient – to get back up after the knocks. That’s why you really need that belief in what you’re doing.