Dementia Action Week – Holistic approach to aged care
Dementia Action Week (18-24 September 2023) is drawing to a close. The theme, ‘Act Now for a Dementia-Friendly Future’ is one that The Salvation Army Aged Care (TSAAC) takes seriously across all its 21 residential aged care centres. Salvos Online writer SIMONE WORTHING recently spoke to Margaret Williams, Manager – Clinical Procedures and Practice Excellence for TSAAC, about her work, with a focus on caring for those experiencing dementia, and their families.
Salvos Online: How did you become involved in working for The Salvation Army’s Aged Care centres?
Margaret Williams: I grew up in Sydney and moved to the Kimberley in WA, working in a remote Aboriginal community with the intention of returning home in one to two years. I worked in the Kimberley and Darwin, and 17 years later, I returned to Sydney. I was looking for jobs and saw one advertised with The Salvation Army Aged Care. My career had been varied over the years, but the last time I had worked in Aged Care was at Macquarie Lodge, one of the Salvos Aged Care centres, when I was at university. I’m the Manager of Clinical Procedures and Practice Excellence for The Salvation Army Aged Care centres around Australia. One of the challenges is that the Salvos have 21 aged care centres in seven states and territories. I write the policy documents that need to meet the differing requirements in each state. My role also involves assistance with incident investigation, education, compliance and accreditation. I’m a registered nurse by profession. It was an interesting time to come into aged care, particularly with policy and accreditation. When I started it was in the middle of the pandemic and there were different regulations in every state. It was also not long after the Royal Commission into Aged Care, so there were new standards and requirements for all providers, and it was interesting to navigate all that.
Is most of your work done behind the scenes or in the centres?
I write policies, send them out to the centres and talk to centre and care managers to make sure that the care we’re providing is best practice but also person-centred and works for the consumers and for the staff. I also work with our teams in Salvos Home Care and our retirement villages.
In working with those with dementia, is there anything that delineates The Salvation Army from other aged care providers?
A lot of our centres have designated dementia units and provide education to our staff. It’s a challenging space, and the dementia journey is different for every person and their families, so you can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s about looking at individualising our care and services for the person, which can be challenging. But our staff are trained to identify people’s needs and understand their behaviours and what might help each individual.
Do you have chaplains or ministers who are able to look at the spiritual side of aged care?
Yes. We’re very big on making sure our care is holistic, and we have a chaplain at each centre. The chaplain conducts a spiritual assessment with every person so we can find out what has been important to them. If it’s a particular religion, for instance, we ask what parts of that religion are important to them. We also have lifestyle staff at all our centres, and residents do a whole range of activities during the day – anything from movies to karaoke to cooking classes and gardening groups.
What are some of the stereotypes and myths around aged care that it would be good to have busted?
I think the environment around aged care is a bit of a myth. A lot of people see it as hospital wards where people are just sitting in rooms, whereas in most of our centres, the environment is beautiful. We have outdoor areas with sensory gardens and beautiful views, and lots of sitting rooms and activity rooms. Another of the myths in aged care is around food. You always hear, much like you do with hospitals, that the food is terrible. But we have chefs on-site at all our centres and put a big focus on what we call the dining experience.
Is there anything you would like to add about the ageing journey?
People are living much longer and from an aged care perspective, we really understand that now. Just because somebody’s older doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have choice, and that they shouldn’t have a say in their care and their life. Lots of families feel guilty about putting people into aged care or they’re worried about whether they’re going to be able to be involved in their care. It’s really important for significant people in the person’s life to be involved in their journey as well, so they can maintain those relationships.
What are some of the personal joys in your job?
I love it! Members of the team in head office are great to work with – everybody’s very collaborative, and our passion is to ensure that we do aged care well. We’re all on the same page, and it’s evident that we don’t want to just be good at things, we want to always do better. Our centres are full of beautiful, committed people who really enjoy their jobs and care about those they look after.
Does The Salvation Army have plans to develop aged care?
We are always working on improvements. It’s definitely a growing area, and there’s absolutely a growing need throughout all levels of society. Lots of our centres have waiting lists, and it’s certainly an area that people sometimes struggle to get into. We want to ensure that there is equitable access for everyone. All people deserve to be cared for well as they age. It’s going to be a challenge in the future, but The Salvation Army is absolutely committed to trying to ensure we meet the need.