Program changes perceptions of caring for elderly

BALLARAT: A groundbreaking program trialed in Beaufort and Ballarat that is improving health care for the elderly is set to expand to other regions.

The Ballarat Health Services and Beaufort and Skipton Health Service led program is training newly graduated nurses to specialise in care of the elderly.

Beaufort and Skipton Health Service learning development manager Kim Stevens said the Care of the Older Persons (COOPs) program was helping to change philosophies in health care.

Project lead Kristee Winters from Ballarat Health Services said the program acknowledged elderly people have needs in health care that require specialist skills.

“Those working in aged care are not just there to do showers. Our graduates are looking holistically and engaging the older person in their care,” she said.

“They might take some time out with them and read a book or do a crossword or come up with a different communication strategy that ensures that patient has their voice heard.

“It is also about gaining recognition within the wider community that the elderly are valued members within our society and deserve quality care.”

Nurses trained in the COOPs program may use their specialist skills in caring for the elderly in their work in other areas of the health system, like emergency and orthopedics, as well as aged care.

Eleven graduate nurses participated in the COOPs program this year – two at Beaufort and Skipton, seven at Ballarat and one at Hepburn – but the program is set to expand.

Ms Stevens and Ms Winters will be part of a state wide steering committee to roll the COOPs program out across Victoria.

They are currently working on developing a curriculum with Australian Catholic University so COOPs program participants can receive two credit points toward postgraduate qualification in gerontology.

“We are hoping we can raise the number of participants in the program to continue to change perceptions. We anticipate that those voices will reduce negative stigma associated with the older person,” Ms Winters said.

“We are showing our participants there is a clear direction and reward in aged care… We need to change the perception and show that nurses who choose aged care are as good as nurses anywhere else in the health system.”

By 2057, it is projected people over 65 will make up 22 per cent of the Australian population, compared with 15 per cent in 2017, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The expansion of the program comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a royal commission into the aged care sector in September, a move which has been welcomed by Beaufort and Skipton and Ballarat Health Services.

Collaboration with Dementia Australia has helped Beaufort and Skipton Health Services staff develop an improved model for aged care.

Beaufort and Skipton Health Service Beaufort campus manager Andrea Flenley said the changes made have been empowering for both staff and residents.

“We have been listening to our residents on how we can improve their quality of life and talked to the families and staff about what they would like to see in aged care,” she said.

“Often what happens when people go into aged care is we take away the home, take away the cooking, take away the cleaning and we take away their purpose. We do it with the best intentions, but this approach is about looking at how we can enable people to take those things back that give them meaning.

“For some people it may be folding clothes, or putting socks together or being able to go out and have a garden or giving them things to do when they are bored and looking for something to do. It is also giving staff the skills to do that to and saying looking after someone’s emotional well-being is as important as keeping them well cared for.”

Animals have been introduced to the service’s aged care facilities. There are now chickens and a cockatoo at Skipton and a cat at the Beaufort campus.

Other projects have been as small as helping residents make their own cups of tea or as big as changing a room into a garden shed.

“The more you do for them the more you disable them, whereas if you are working with them you are enabling them to live the best life they can,” Ms Flenley said.

There are 47 aged care residents across the health service’s Beaufort and Skipton campuses. Many live with dementia.