Agent of change

PROFILE: The increasing acuity in home care provides an exciting work environment for RNs, community care executive and former nurse Alison Chandler tells Community Care Review.

PROFILE: The increasing acuity in home care provides an exciting work environment for RNs, community care executive and former nurse Alison Chandler tells Community Care Review.

More than two decades may have passed since Alison Chandler made the leap from working in the hospital system, but the new head of Just Better Care still vividly remembers walking into a client’s home on her first shift as a community nurse.

Alison Chandler
Alison Chandler

“I felt very privileged to see the person in their own environment,” says Chandler. “They weren’t in their pyjamas, as they would be in hospital. I could see their family photos, how they lived, and I could get to know them on a whole different level.

“I’ve been in community health ever since,” she says.

In the intervening years Chandler made the transition from RN to community care executive and leader, working for both for-profit and NFP providers in various roles.

In late December 2015 she was appointed director of operations at Just Better Care, where she had been general manager, to take over from outgoing COO Trish Noakes, who founded the franchise in 2005.

During the past decade Just Better Care has grown a network of 33 independently-owned and operated franchise offices across Australia, employing more than 1,200 people. It was acquired by global group Caring Brands International in 2014.

An entrepreneurial streak

Discussing her career path from RN to executive, Chandler says she was always interested in how the organisations she was working for were being run.

“I was also quite entrepreneurial as a nurse,” she says. “I was working in a model where I was subcontracted and I wanted to grow the number of people that I could care for, so I proactively started to initiate business development activity … visiting community centres and GPs, and the number of people I was caring for was growing.”

Her employer at the time noticed and soon asked Chandler to undertake further business development activity. This experience, coupled with some tertiary study in management, carried her further up the executive ranks.

“I was very fortunate because my passion for the industry really led me down the path of being a leader; I like to be able to influence change if I can see areas for quality improvement. I’m always quite vocal about expressing it,” she says.

For several years Chandler had watched Noakes develop Just Better Care, with an appreciation for the successful growth of the business.

She didn’t hesitate when offered a position with the company, excited about the franchise model which she believed was ideally suited to the changing community care landscape.

Under the model, Just Better Care provides clinical governance, technological and administrative support, leaving the franchisees to focus on delivering care in their communities, says Chandler.

Currently the organisation has 32 franchise territories in Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia, NSW and the ACT, while Chandler confirms it is seeking to expand into South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

“We’re very excited about our growth plans and expanding our network across Australia,” she says.

Excited by changing sector

Chandler says she is delighted to see the bold reforms proposed by the Productivity Commission in 2011 now materialise across community aged care.

However, she is attune to the resulting challenges facing community care providers, and nominates workforce development as being chief among them.

The reforms represent a very big shift in thinking, in service delivery, and in how all staff – from executives to care workers – connect with consumers, she says.

“It’s a different style of communication,” she says, adding that the new era of choice requires skill, listening, negotiation, understanding and acceptance.

“For people who have been in the industry a very long time, it’s stepping out of their comfort zone to see the consumer actually drive the services.”

Attractive option for workers

Chandler believes another impact of the community care reforms – the increasing acuity of clients living in their homes – will lead to a more challenging but exciting work environment, especially for RNs.

“It’s a different world now…We have technology in the home, hospital in the home; people who are critically ill being very well cared for at home. This has changed how RNs are working. It’s more exciting, very technical. From that perspective, community nursing is a very attractive option for a lot of RNs.”

Priorities for now

Chandler was speaking to Community Care Review as Just Better Care was preparing to release its 2016-19 strategic plan, which she says has a clear focus on the consumer, the workforce, and on improved system efficiencies including greater use of ICT.

The organisation is investing heavily in the workforce, says Chandler, who mentions training in key areas such as client choice, duty of care and professional boundaries.

“We’re very excited about the next few years ahead,” she says.

This article appears in the current edition of Community Care Review.

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