Our COVID-19 Village Manager survey: what you told us

Over the last fortnight, nearly 300 village professionals have shared with us your honest sentiments on the impact that COVID-19 is having on your communities.

I am thrilled to inform you that the survey indicated strong levels of positivity.

It also highlighted the dedication and hard work you and your operators around the country have been doing to support your residents, staff and community, so far with the pandemic.

In short, the survey showed:

village teams were feeling well-supported and confident that your organisation could successfully navigate the pandemic
nearly 3/4 of village teams have been given the opportunity for flexible work arrangements during this time
on the whole, village teams have an overwhelming confidence in supporting residents and the community, during the crisis
The immediate concerns you raised focused around:

the decrease in sales inquiry and buyer commitment
concern for your residents in social isolation
fear for the health and safety of your residents and your teams
your ability to complete maintenance or refurbishments in a timely manner
the impact of compliance obligations
Other concerns raised included:

access to PPE if required
loss of ‘community’
reduced resident confidence
and job security for you and your team
Looking at the bigger picture, you also talked about:

the long-term implications of the pandemic
concerns around sales taking a long time to rebound
the financial viability of operators
the financial impact on residents
and the unknown.
The survey also showed you are thinking about:

resident health and engagement being a concern
what would be the impact if an outbreak occurs in your village, or a village nearby?
the media still confusing aged care and retirement villages
and the implication of compliance measures, such as buybacks
Thanks again for your participation in the survey and we hope this feedback shows you are not alone in your thinking.

Going forward we will do more surveys to hear your messages from the field – please join in.

Latest industry developments

Operators see costs going up and residents see services going down – what do the lawyers say about monthly fee conversations?

Since the Government’s forced closure of pubs, clubs and community centres on March 23, both operators and residents have shared concerns with us about the impact COVID-19 may have on monthly resident fees and annual village expenditure.

In some villages, residents have requested monthly fee reductions, due to the closure of common facilities.

In others, managers have shared concerns about unexpected costs for infection control; and potential changes to service delivery.

What are the obligations of operators and residents in relation to monthly service fees?

It was a relief last week when Tammy Berghofer – from leading industry law firm, MinterEllison – gave us some legal insights on this front.

First up, there is no obligation to reduce monthly resident fees because of temporary closures ‘in compliance with legal directions’.

Tammy said:

“There is no legislative requirement for recurrent (non-optional) services charges (variously described as general services charges, recurrent charges or maintenance charges) to be reduced due to the temporary closure of facilities or cessation of activities within a retirement village in compliance with legal directions”.

She says these fees are not your normal consumer ‘fees for service’. They are the resident’s ‘contribution’ to running the village.

“These types of recurrent services charges in retirement villages are fundamentally different from many other fees or charges for common consumer services.

“As a general rule, these recurrent services charges are:

a resident’s individual contribution to the overall ongoing costs of operating the village (similar to strata levies or council rates) – they are not a ‘fee for service’;
‘cost recovery’ only, with all charges applied to paying the costs of operating the village; and
levied under a budget set at the beginning of the financial year, which may not be able to be changed under relevant retirement villages legislation until the next year.”
She also talked about the possible impact of COVID-19 on the overall costs of the village over 12 months, which residents will need to take into account.

“The closure of facilities will not necessarily mean there is an overall reduction in operating costs.”

“The reduced operation of some facilities may result in lower costs being incurred throughout the year (such as certain maintenance or energy costs). However, other village costs may be increasing at the same time as a result of COVID-19 (such as additional costs of management, administration, and staff and resident communications to comply with government rules and safety guidelines)”.

“It may not be until the end of the current financial year that the ultimate cost impact can be determined with any certainty”.

Tammy also highlighted the importance of checking in with your industry legal partner early if you need clarification or support. She has made herself available to her clients – often times, at little or no expense.


COVID-19 sales advice: protect and nurture your existing sales funnel and database

There are understandable concerns about village sales, especially the refundable deposits and longer-term potential buyers who may think to pull out as they try to sell their homes. Have you got a plan?

I had the opportunity this week to interview Alison Abel. She is Sales Director at the leading marketing agency Marketability, but also the on the ground Sales Manager at the new village The Gracewood, at Kellyville in Sydney, a BaptistCare village.

I’ve always admired Allison for being a “doer”, a relationship builder, a fellow customer-experience junkie, and a lover of “all things retirement living”. But even more so now that I have uncovered her “WHY”.

Alison’s “why” is simply, “to provide the best customer journey to her clients that is possible”.

Long before COVID-19, Alison and her team focused on relationships, education and customer experience as a key part of her sales solution.

This included hosting information days and education sessions for potential clients; individualising client experiences (e.g. by hand-writing name cards for designated car parking spaces); and welcoming clients to The Gracewood.

In fact, Alison and her team typically have five touchpoints with clients – before they arrive for their first onsite inspection.

These strategies have allowed Alison to begin her “coping during a pandemic” journey, with an engaged database built on trusted relationships.

Coping with COVID

As soon as COVID-19 hit, Alison and her team decided to up her focus on supporting The Gracewood’s 100 incoming residents. They set out to deepen their existing relationships with prospective clients on their database.

Allison immediately instigated:

a weekly EDM to her depositors and database, to continue engagement
Zoom interviews with incoming residents to uncover their real-life stories, which were then shared with others
Five-minute videos with guest speakers around topics of interest to her prospects, which she then shared with her prospects
All of these activities have served to build on her existing relationships and are ensuring that communication channels remain open.
They also further develop the trust that has been established in The Gracewood and BaptistCare since day one.

So far, the feedback on these initiatives – from prospects, depositors and families – has been overwhelmingly positive. Many have enjoyed the opportunity to share their own stories.

Check out this example of one incoming resident, Helen, HERE.

Remember, it is a lot harder to find new buyers compared to the real buyers who already know and trust you.

Latest industry developments

New South Wales government steps up to help social isolation in seniors

Here is a great idea that you might be able to use if you are in NSW – and think about elsewhere.

The NSW Liberal government late last week launched the Combating Social Isolation for Seniors during COVID-19 Grant Program.

These grants are available to organisations (like villages and operators) to help create programs that foster social inclusion for seniors activities.

The grants must help older people connect with each other through online engagement or other ways,

Example programs could include:

a service provider starting a program of social support calls to isolated seniors (an example would be your emergency call centre doing outbound calls to residents – INS is one supplier that does this)
running regular online conference calls for groups meeting up such as craft, men’s sheds, etc. ‘House Party’ is a popular app for this and you may get funding to drive it
creating an online cafe or carer support group
Even if you’re not based in NSW it is worth doing some research into other grants that may be available for seniors during the pandemic.

A great place to start is obviously google but don’t forget your Local Member is also likely to have information in relation to possible grant options for a program you maybe wanting to get off the ground.

Key things to help you everyday

‘Complaints’ in a pandemic….but wait, there is help

We all know that communication is paramount in operating Retirement Living communities.

With COVID-19 I am confident the communications from operators to residents have been many, but so too am I confident the communications from residents to operators have been plentiful as well.

Normally our preferred communication style is face to face, but that is not ‘socially isolating’.

We have less opportunity to walk around the village, and less likely to be able to be present to minimise rumours (which is no doubt heightened).

For complaints in the past we may have visited in person and resolved a complaint in person, or at the very least relied on visual cues and personal relationships to verify the differences between someone venting Vs a complaint/dispute to be managed.

So it is a time where written, emailed or text information prevails, but these can so often be taken the wrong way or misinterpreted; and the information to hand suggests this is the way we will be operating for some many months.

I suggest it may be beneficial to revisit how complaints and disputes can be managed. If you’re not sure where to start with a review, then perhaps using the Retirement Living Code of Conduct guidelines as a tool is a good place to start.

If you are a DCM Institute participant, we have put together some best practice guides for complaint and dispute management that will be shared during this month’s topic.

If you are not a current member and would like us to share with you some of these tools please contact Judy Martin at and we would be only too happy to share them with you too.

Reporting Results

Survey: how is the COVID-19 pandemic impacting you and your communities?

We at the DCM Institute are committed to continue to provide industry specific tools, resources and support throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to assist you in your day to day operations.

We want to understand what is working, what you are finding challenging and what solutions you require.

We have created an online survey to help the sector understand how village communities are navigating the changes required for the coronavirus.

The findings will be released back to you and used by us to build future tools and resources of support, and to help inform businesses, industries and governments on how they can provide services and support to benefit and improve the lives of older Australians and the village teams that support them.

Keep an eye out in your inbox, you will receive an email for the survey 5 minutes after receiving this newsletter.

Please, can I request you take 5 minutes to complete this short survey.

Things to watch

Can you tell residents about a COVID-19 case in the village – check the Privacy Act

Can you tell residents about a COVID-19 case in the village – check the Privacy Act
A common question asked of us in recent days by Village Managers has been around whether or not operators are able to notify the resident population if a resident has:

notified them that they are self-isolating after a close contact
been directed to self-isolate by the public health system
or has been confirmed as having COVID-19 and directed to return to their home
My admired colleague Danielle Lim from Queensland base law firm DSL Law shared last week the importance of the Privacy Act implications that may be required to be considered by retirement living operators prior to making these decisions.

Danielle shared, “If the unfortunate situation of a confirmed COVID-19 case occurs within the community, there are some privacy implications involved in disclosing the identity of the infected resident”.

“The Privacy Act would normally require that consent is obtained from the infected resident before their identity is disclosed”.

“Although privacy guidance has been updated in response to COVID-19, the best response remains to take reasonable steps to obtain ‘consent’ prior to disclosing specific details about a resident’s situation and personal details”.

In my own experience to date, if you are able to contact the most local Public Health department to the village location, they too will assist you with your decision by providing information on the likely public health risk to the surrounding community.

However Danielle went on to say:

“Following a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 within a community, this news should be disclosed to residents and staff, without disclosing the infected person’s identity”.

“In a situation in which an infected person refuses to self-isolate, it is likely that exemptions within the Privacy Act would enable their identity to be disclosed to the community for the purpose of protecting people from exposure to the virus”.

We understand how challenging this situation is for you as the Village Manager balancing the risk to the wider community and the legal rights of each resident.

We have developed a simple guide in dealing with this situation from an operational view to help you at