Community aged care provider Warrigal has taken out the award for Provider of the Year at this year’s Aged & Community Services Australia awards.
The annual awards celebrate outstanding achievements and contributions of organisations, teams and individuals in the aged care industry.
The peak body for not-for-profit aged care providers announced the winners online on Tuesday.
Warrigal CEO Mark Sewell said he and his staff were “thrilled” to win the award.
“It’s just the perfect antidote for the kind of despair and the fatigue that many people in aged care feel,” he told Community Care Review.
In October, Warrigal also won the ACSA state award for Provider of the Year in NSW and ACT.
The not-for-profit community aged care provider has been providing aged care services to the community for over 50 years.
The ‘hidden’ sector
Warrigal has more clients in home care than residential care, but not many are aware of this.
“It’s the hidden sector; it’s quietly, diligently, one by one, just doing its magic across the community,” Mr Sewell said.
“Whilst many older Australians are lonely and unhappy at home on their own, it’s that home care service touch point that makes all the difference.
“So those staff as well need to be honoured and regarded as frontline heroes.”
He believes the sector is mostly hidden because it doesn’t have “bricks and mortar” and doesn’t have “big capital injections”.
“But that’s its magic; it’s quite adaptive, adaptable, it’s quite flexible, it just responds to people’s needs all across the community, in small communities and large communities,” he said.
“It is really domestic and social and based in the community, and that’s why it’s just an incredible place to be and to work.”
Challenges and highlights
Warrigal was impacted by the 2019 and 2020 bushfires in NSW, with one of its largest homes needing to be evacuated.
“They couldn’t go back to their homes for I think more than two weeks, and so to have them homeless and spread around the state in other places was a very big trauma,” Mr Sewell said.
Then the pandemic hit, which had staff quite stretched across NSW and ACT, where Warrigal is based.
“We were having to watch closely every single territory, every local health district, the case numbers and the risks in each area to work out whether the home that we had in that area was safe or needed particular lockdowns,” Mr Sewell said.
However, in the midst of all that, Warrigal also purchased two extra homes in Canberra from Bupa and were able to reach that “magic 1,000 bed size” and build a stronger team.
“When things are difficult, you sort of have to decide whether you’re going to shrink back and pull back and go extra safe and small, or push forward and try new things,” Mr Sewell said.
“To grow to acquire two homes, to employ an extra 100 staff without the funding… all those things took a bit of courage; the staff and managers have had that kind of courage to just push forward.”
Mr Sewell believes the biggest lesson learnt this year is that culture is what matters the most.
“Teamwork culture is fundamentally important to get you through, regardless of the circumstances,” he said.
“So often those things are seen easily in the good times, but it’s actually in the challenging times that those things really get tested and come to the fore.”
Next year, Warrigal is looking to ensure that its retirement villages and home care is as strong as its residential care.
“That seems to be what other people are telling us they want; they want to live in their own homes,” Mr Sewell said.
“And if their own homes aren’t suitable, they want to live in homes that we create in retirement villages.”
Mt View Homes, based in South Australia, took out the award for Regional, Rural, Remote Provider of the Year and Anglicare Southern Queensland took out the gong for Innovation in Service or Design.
Sue Cooke, Executive Director of Anglicare Southern Queensland, said it was an “absolute honour” to win the award.
“I’d really like to thank our 3,000 staff and 600 volunteers who, day in and day out, provide an exceptional level of care to more than 50,000 Queenslanders and have done so for the past 150 years,” she said in a statement.
Therese Best from Queen Victoria Care in Tasmania won Employee of the Year and Christine Sward from Christian Homes Tasmania won Volunteer of the Year.
ACSA CEO Paul Sadler said providers across the sector have been working “tirelessly” this year.
“During a time of such great change and challenge, it’s inspiring to see the innovation and dedication from providers in caring for and supporting older Australians,” he said at the awards.