First published in the Leading Age Services Australia – Victoria publication LASA Voice, Autumn Edition, issue 1, 2013. Reprinted with permission.

At the 2012 State Congress, a session was held called “Sustainable models of aged care for rural and regional areas”. The session explored the considerable challenges small rural aged care services and multi-purpose services are confronting in meeting identified needs within the constraints of existing service models.

This article revisits the discussion from last June’s Congress and provides insights from one of the panel members on how one organisation continues to meet these challenges.

Many Boards and Chief Executive Officers of rural and remote aged care organisations are “feeling the pinch” as the reduction in ACFI and CPI funding, the intensity of competition and the various aged care, hospital and health care reforms take hold.

However, there are opportunities amongst all the changes, as the Leadership Team (Board, Chief Executive Officer and Senior Management Team) of the Alcheringa Group have discovered. A number of readers may recall various articles about the coming together of Coates Aged Care (St Arnaud), Pyramid Hill Aged Care and Alcheringa and Swan Hill Village to form the Alcheringa Group.

I spoke to Ann Rough (Chief Executive Officer) and Arthur Graham (Chairman) of Alcheringa Group to catch up on some of their recent strategic initiatives and projects, which are summerised below.

  • Pyramid Hill Residential Care has been transformed into an aged care, allied health and medical model. With a town population of only 450 people and some 1,500 in the surrounding districts, Dr Darko provides services two days a week, and a number of allied health staff provide weekly services to both aged care residents and individuals and families in the community.
  • Dr Darko, in the forthcoming months, will operate a Telehealth Service for both aged care residents and his patients, enabling them to be linked to specialists in Bendigo and Melbourne, thereby negating travel time, cost and challenges for people.
  • The introduction of a fully integrated Video/Communication System between all four sites has significantly improved communications and cut travel time and costs. This project was extensively researched prior to implementation and clearly demonstrates that distance between facilities and/or services is no barrier.
  • Bringing together these three organisations has enabled the appointment of a number of specialist people who operate across the organisation, such as Regional Care Manager, Regional OHS Coordinator & Return to Work Officer, and Regional Food Safety Coordinator.
  • Selective partnerships have also been a major contributor to the achievements of the Alcheringa Group, along with “critical friends” who support either the governance, organisational or service development and delivery.

For Ann and Arthur, bringing together the three organisations was a major journey, but as Arthur states, “it’s the team approach that has enabled the Board, Chief Executive Officer and Senior Management Team to go just beyond one amalgamated organisation and set realistic and practical strategic initiatives and projects that support the staff to work in different ways whilst at the same time supporting the communities in which we operate”.

In Pyramid Hill the Alcheringa Group also owns the chemist shop and the opportunity shop, which provides a vital service for many people who are unemployed, retired or face other personal or socio-economic challenges.

“We will continue to research and develop our aged care and health care model, ensuring it is customised to meet the needs of individuals and communities in which we operate” said Ann.

Ann and the Alcheringa Group Board are currently working on two other potential merger projects that could not only bring significant benefits to both aged care organisations but assist in creating a strengthened Board, ensuring financial sustainability and opening the doors to a range of residential care and community care services for individuals, families and communities…no doubt we will hear more of this exciting development in due course.

The story and journey of the Alcheringa Group will continue to provide unique insights and innovative strategies for other boards and chief executive officers of rural and remote aged care organisations to consider, as they transition to the new world of aged care and health care, where customer (client and resident) choice and market forces will rule.