Teamwork through challenge and change at Inasmuch Community

Working in aged care brings both challenge and reward. The unprecedented and enduring events of the last two years have seen many Providers look to new ways of delivering quality care and service. 

For some, the challenge of “keeping on” has helped identify new skills, re-invigorate a sense of team, and build an even stronger relationship between their governing body, executives, consumers and the community. We caught up with Sandra Gray, Board Chair for Inasmuch Community, a small, locally owned community aged care provider located in Sussex Inlet, NSW to chat about their unique learnings over the last two years.

There is no doubt that all providers have felt the toll of the pandemic over the last couple of years. But as a small provider, what do you think the secrets to survival and success have been for the Inasmuch Community leadership team during this time?

Aligning on purpose and values would have to be the first. One of the key attributes I see in the members on our Board is how much they want to give back to the community. We are a team of people who collectively believe that joining a board isn’t about looking important or being influential. We are first and foremost volunteers, here to give back to our community by sharing our experience and skills, and I think we’re all here for exactly the right reasons.

Often, I'll meet a team member, like the driver of our op shop truck, who will say, “Oh, yes, you're the boss,” and I’ll say “well, hardly, I'm just a volunteer like you are, except that while you drive the op shop truck, I share my expertise in finance, business and community organisations.”

A very close second would be ensuring each board member and our leadership team feel valued. We strive to create a positive and collaborative team environment, where we give each board member a sense that the wealth of experience, knowledge, and skills they bring is valued, appreciated and respected. This is particularly important in our board composition structure, which seeks to make skills-based board appointments and then enable us to leverage one another’s expertise and then uplift our governance capability across key areas as required

“We have two clinical staff on our team, a fully trained social worker who works closely with health and numerous services across the region, and a palliative care specialist. Each of these team members bring specific skills and expertise to our operation and they are highly respected for their clinical knowledge by our staff and our leadership team.”

A third, but not necessarily final secret, would be enabling board members and staff to build a relationship outside of the annual general meeting. For us, prioritising getting to know one another and opening the lines of communication has become an invaluable way to understand what’s happening on the ground and how the decisions we make as a board can impact our team and our customers.

Setting up a regular staff breakfast has proven an effective way for the board and staff members to get to know each other in an informal setting. Generally, we organise a coffee van and provide a breakfast that our broader team can access at shift cross over time. Often several members of the board will be there to sit, have breakfast, have a conversation, and get to know the team. Participating in the Governing for Reform in Aged Care program has helped us see how fundamental relationships are in truly tailoring care and taking a customer centric approach to everything we do. Thinking about our team of board members, executive, staff and volunteers, it’s easy to see that placing people at the centre of care is an approach that is a natural fit for Inasmuch Community

Can you share one unexpected learning from the challenges of the last few years?

Sometimes, we thought wouldn't it be good if we were part of a bigger organisation, we'd have more resources, a bigger team etc. But what we've learned in the last 18 months is that when you work very closely, and the board, the leadership team and the staff have strong, transparent, and open lines of communication, and robust governance practices, you can identify and quickly and sometimes creatively resolve issues, create buy in and a sense of collective accountability to succeed. At one point, during the height of COVID, we were really worried about the mental health and wellbeing of our staff, we knew the reduced staff numbers, increased workload and hours, and the stress of COVID in our teams work and homelife was taking a toll.

As a board we looked for simple ways to reduce the pressure and stress on our team. One simple, but highly appreciated idea was to cook additional meals each day, and pack them to takeaway, so when our staff go home after their 12-hour shift, they can take dinner home for their family and enjoy some well-deserved quality time back in their day.

If you had a magic wand, what’s the one thing you would fix?

There are of course multiple issues that need to be considered as a sector, a community and a country, but one priority that comes to mind is to see those working in aged care receive the recognition for the hard work and dedication to their roles that they deserve.

The findings from the Royal Commission and the subsequent reviews and coverage have created a perception that staff are intentionally doing the wrong thing or that providers are deliberately not delivering quality and safe care to older Australians. People were quick to listen to a story and then generalise. And for the many of us in this industry who have a strong sense of pride and commitment to what we do, this was very distressing.

Most volunteers, nurses, specialists, care staff and leaders working in aged care are here because they love to care for and help other people. Yes, there are improvements that can be made, and for some providers it will be challenging to meet new obligations and responsibilities. We are committed to improving the quality and safety of care for older Australians; it’s reflected in our participation in development programs like Governing for Reform in Aged Care, our peer-to-peer conversations and our attendance at regulation information sessions. But imagine how great it could be when the narrative shifts and people think, “Look at Angie, lucky you working in aged care. It's such an amazing industry!”