Things to watch

Reaching out to your local MP to get Telstra’s attention, especially with telehealth now an essential reality

Don’t you hate it when you are getting nowhere?

Recently Village Manager Vanessa White from OakTree Dural, an inaugural member of our DCMI Village Management Professional Development program, reached out to her local MP Justin Lesser as a last resort to assist her 18 month fight with Telstra to obtain suitable connections to phone and internet for the resident in her village.

OakTree Dural is just over 30km from Sydney’s CBD, yet residents have been unable to connect with doctors via Telehealth. The COVID pandemic has heightened her residents need to communicate via phone and internet with family, friends and importantly support services.

After nearly two years of unanswered requests and with no rectification in sight by Telstra,  Justin recognised the urgency and began a campaign to highlight to Telstra’s CEO that this situation was unacceptable.

His campaign was taken up by the Daily Telegraph, Allan Jones 2GB, Seven Nightly News and a number of smaller media outlets. Telstra got the message.

This is just one example of why establishing a sound working relationship with your local MP can be mutually beneficial. 

In our Village Management Professional Development program I am often heard preaching the benefits of maintaining working relationships with you local MP.  Whether it is to assist in situations such as this one, to provide support on grant programs, or to open the new veggie garden.

It’s easy. Invite them to talk to residents about what they are doing for the local community, and to have their photo taken. Remember, every resident has local family as well.

Think of it as a ‘win win’ relationship. You will get some access to additional support or information, you will be helping to educate our future Ministers on the benefit of Retirement Living and may even in cases like this one, get someone to champion your cause.

For the local Member they get recognition for assisting a large number of local constituents with an issue, the opportunity to meet local voters all in one place and be educated about retirement living for use in future party committees and discussions.

If you haven’t started that relationship with your local member already, put it on your ‘what I would like to achieve over winter’ list!

Key things to help you everyday

COVID-19 Living Choice resident ideas in lockdown

This week it came to our attention the many ideas that the Living Choice team have been dreaming up to support their residents in lockdown. Conveniently a few of them are on their website here.

A couple we liked were:

April Birthdays

With COVID-19 restrictions in place, it has been impossible to arrange the usual Birthday Bash events. Not wanting the residents to feel left out, the Living Choice Woodcroft team hatched up a plan to take the birthday celebration to the residents in their homes. The staff members made up 65 gift boxes for those who had missed out in March, April and May and on Friday 15th May, they delivered them all, singing “Happy Birthday” 65 times! 

Tasks to fill your days

Michael Gasking, who lives with his wife, Lois at Living Choice Fullarton, is known as the “go-to” man if ever you need anything made, repaired or polished! Most days, he can be found in the village workshop or in the basement, cleaning cars. He has some useful advice for those who need to fill their days in self-isolation.

  • Dismiss all negative thoughts
  • Polish the silver
  • Do a jigsaw
  • Read what your iPhone can do
  • Find out more about your iPad and Computer
  • Find out more about apps
  • Climb some stairs or steps
  • Walk around the neighbourhood
  • Learn some scripture
  • Tidy up your files
  • Shred or get rid of some paperwork
  • Go through your clothing and discard
  • Throw out more rubbish
  • Do some art, sketches, doodling
  • Look up some old recipe books
  • Clean your shutters and brickwork
  • Read your car instruction book
  • Throw out some books
  • Make some scones for a neighbour or friend
  • Do some crosswords or similar
  • Ring an old neighbour for a chat
  • Catch up with someone not doing so well
  • Read some of your long-forgotten books
  • Avoid too many movies
  • Swap plants with your neighbours
  • Recreate and replay your music collection
  • Write a letter as distinct from an email
  • Get out some of your old board games
  • Brush up on your First Aid skills
  • Learn a new skill via You Tube
  • Dust off an old musical instrument
  • Tell more of your life’s story
  • Explore digital news sources
  • Disinfect your car after shopping
Latest industry developments

NSW retirement villages have legislative requirements to protect older people from abuse – a strategy document required

Changes to the NSW regulations includes a requirement for Retirement Village operators to prepare and put into practice a clear and accessible strategy for both staff and residents to better identify and respond to the abuse of older people living in a retirement village.

The Ageing and Disability Commissioner, Robert Fitzgerald AM, has notified the sector that he has established new officers to visit villages to check they  have strategies and procedures in place. Serious fines will be given if not found or they are not adequate.

The Commissioner has also organised tools and guidance on forming strategies. You can find them here.

Key things to help you everyday

Finally, restrictions are easing… what does it mean for your community?

The good news of the fortnight is Australia’s coronavirus restrictions are easing! 

While this will be welcome news for some residents and staff, there is no doubt there will be others that are nervous about the continued risk and potential impact on their health. 

With the help of our good friends at MinterEllison and with some of our own investigation, we provide below the latest references available for retirement living operators in each state as at today.  

Queenslandon 15 May 2020 the Queensland Government issued advice for retirement village visitors on the ‘Homes and Housing’ section of the Queensland Government website that provides some guidelines around visitors, activities and facility use.

South Australia on15 May 2020 updated the COVID-19 Fact Sheet for Retirement village operators  and seeks to reinforce the South Australian Roadmap.

New South Wales late last week provided some answers in a Frequently Asked Questions format around visitors, meetings, annual contract checks, privacy, open inspections and health emergencies.  

Victoria early this week announced that from 1 June 2020 cafes, restaurants and pubs will be re-opened to serve meals to up to 20 customers at a time (per enclosed space):

  • Venues will be required to take the contact details of every customer to assist in rapid contact tracing.
  • From 22 June 2020 the limit could increase to 50 patrons and in the second half of July, 100 patrons.
  • The timelines are reliant on high testing numbers and medical advice from the Chief Health Officer

However they provide little direction as yet on the Consumer Affairs ‘Housing’’ section around meeting gatherings.

Western Australia commenced ‘Stage 2’ easing of restrictions on 18 May. 20 people are now allowed to gather indoors, including in cafes and restaurants with meal service.

Tasmania ‘Stage 1’ commenced 18 May. The number of visitors to a household is now 5, although gatherings of 10 are permitted at restaurants and cafes. Pools and outdoor exercise equipment may also be re-opened (provided there are less than 10 patrons).

Reporting Results

Congratulations to our colleagues at Ryman Healthcare: the most trusted brand in the NZ retirement industry for 2020 (again)

It is the sixth time that Ryman, New Zealand’s largest retirement village operator, has taken the top award in the ‘Aged Care and Retirement Village’ category in the Reader’s Digest Most Trusted Brands awards.

Ryman previously won in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019.

With 32 villages in NZ, they now have 11 in the pipeline in and around Melbourne.

Ryman villages provide a continuum of care, from independent living to serviced apartments to residential care.

Reporting Results

Collegial relations with Resident Committees is a great investment, especially now

From now until nearly the end of the year Resident Committees play a significant role in the formation of operating expenditure budgets, providing feedback for future capital works projects and assisting with annual meeting proceedings.

This month in the DCMI Village Manager PD program we have been discussing the role of the Resident Committee and how building collegial relationship with them can in fact be extremely beneficial to the village, resident satisfaction and harmonious operations.

The role of the resident’s committee is really as the voice of the residents, a safeguard mechanism for the residents financial/lifestyle interests.

Whilst there are some variances from state to state on the specifics of the role of Resident Committees, in nearly all states Resident Committees are not the decision making bodies. Instead they are bodies that represent the residents.

One of the most important activities you can undertake with your Resident Committee is to document the agreement of roles, responsibilities, behaviours, expectations and process.

This will assist to provide clarification on who is to do what, what the expectations are of each person in the relationship and timelines for identified activities.

Some items to consider when documenting this process might include:

  • Meeting with the Chair prior to the meeting to jointly prepare
  • The provision to table research or issues for discussion prior to meetings
  • Process for communications outside of meetings – perhaps nominating one person from each party as the communication medium (Chair/Secretary)
  • Type of activities the Resident Committee is happy to assist with (research perhaps)
  • A timeline for review of the process
  • Communications to residents after the meeting
  • Process for disagreements or escalation

In my own experience when the relationship between the Resident Committee, the Village Manager and the Operator is one based on trust, respect, and honesty, then great things can be achieved in villages, and village operations tend to be more efficient.

Key things to help you everyday

Basic sales tips in this COVID world

There is a lot of concern and frustration about sales, understandably.

Limits on onsite inspections, the hit to residential home sales, the ongoing confusion (especially in the media) about aged care homes and retirement villages – and of course families asking when ‘mum’s home will be sold’. Plus operator’s are keen to receive their DMF income.

Here is a basic step we can all make, right now and at no cost. Check your processes for handling the first contact by a potential customer with your village.

In 2017 when sales were last hit (by the ABC Four Corners report), the leading advisory firm KPMG did a village Customer Experience Survey. It found that ”80% of Retirement Village operators did not answer a mystery shopper call and only 50% returned that call (from a message left on an answering machine)”.

We all know that first impression is vitally important.

To back this up, interesting results were provided by American Seniors Housing last year. Their research found:

“84% of the time the first village that has a meaningful (sales/marketing) conversation will be the prospect’s village of choice.” And further to that:

“By having a meaningful conversation within 5-minutes of a prospect’s enquiry increases the prospects likelihood to buy from you by over 400%.”

What happens at your village? What really happens to a prospect’s call when your village admin transfers them to sales – do they get a voicemail, is it picked up, are they left waiting, do they hang up without the opportunity to provide information?

Do they move on to the next village?

What about after hours if a prospective calls? What do your prospects experience then?

Do they get a message and set the expectation when their call will be answered? Are they directed to your website for further information, or do they get a voicemail beep?

And what happens if they land on your website after hours and they are seeking some basic information about your community?

Can they easily find your operating hours, inspection details, testimonials from other residents, virtual tour, guides/e-books about the many benefits of retirement living, and an opportunity to leave an enquiry?

Is there a chatbot that may be able to answer their basic questions and encourage them to fill out an enquiry form?

These are the basics, but powerful basics that we can all make sure work.

Covid-19 Things to watch

How to handle Resident Meetings under COVID-19 restrictions

We have been fielding a number of enquiries around legislative obligations of operators during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Last week national law firm Minter Ellison came out with yet another great communication as a guide for retirement living operators who may have legislative or contractual obligations to call a meeting of all residents during the pandemic.

Meetings still have to be held.

Tammy Berghofer, a senior counsel at Minter Ellison shared;“The retirement villages legislation generally does not provide for any suspension of, or basis to delay, residents meetings that must occur within specified time periods”.

No state or territory has changed this in response to the COVID-19.

The Minter Ellison guide covers all this and makes recommendations. You can check it out in full here.

The first questions you will have:

Can you do video meetings?

In summary, audio/video meetings are most clearly permitted in South Australia (in all cases) and Tasmania (where an exemption from the Minister is obtained).

Operators in Queensland, New South WalesVictoria, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory can hold their meetings by audio/video means with reasonable confidence on the basis that the common law position permitting such meetings is preserved in those jurisdictions (subject to the exceptions mentioned above).

For Queensland the matter will be even clearer if the expected regulations are passed.

The position is least clear in Western Australia where the legislation may require physical meetings – regulatory guidance from the relevant authorities to put the matter beyond doubt would be ideal.

What should operators do?

Minter Ellison recommends that operators take the following approach to meetings required under the retirement villages legislation while the COVID-19 restrictions are in place:

  • Consider whether the meetings can be lawfully avoided or delayed until after the COVID-19 emergency passes.
  • If a meeting cannot be avoided or delayed (for example, because a resolution of residents is required to pass the services charges budget for the new financial year), consider whether it can lawfully be held by audio/video means instead of in person, having regard to our comments above.

    For Western Australia, it would be ideal to wait (if possible) for the government to pass regulations specifically permitting the holding of non-physical meetings to ensure there is a clear mandate to do so, and to avoid the risk of any subsequent challenge to the validity of the meeting by residents.

    In Tasmania, the safest course of action is to apply to the relevant Minister for an exemption allowing a non-physical meeting as soon as possible.

  • If a non-physical meeting is to be held, make arrangements to hold the meeting in a way that complies with the common law requirement that all parties be able to be ‘present’ with, and respond to, each other.

    This will involve selecting an appropriate communication or technology platform that allows for full communication between participants, and which can handle a large number of participants at the same time.

    Various available technology platforms allow for audio (ie telephone only) and/or video participation. They also have in-built meeting functions such as voting, sharing information or videos, asking or submitting questions, and producing a recording or transcript of the meeting.

    Operators should consider which platform is best for the type of meeting planned, and any assistance residents may require to have access, such as the installation of any necessary software or hardware in their unit.

  • Engage with the resident body (or residents committee) as soon as possible to ensure all residents are informed and consulted about the format of the meeting and any vote to be held, and that any specific concerns are addressed.

    Consider inviting residents to submit questions for the meeting in writing as soon as possible so they can be efficiently answered in the meeting.

  • Make any supplementary practical arrangements necessary to allow full participation and voting (if required) at the meeting, which may include:

         o   delivering physical ballot papers and information packages to      residents’ units;
         o   providing a locked container in the village for postal votes;
         o   providing clear instructions to residents on how to interact and vote; and
         o   checking and testing the technology before the meeting.

  • Ensure that the conduct of the meeting (particularly if a vote is to be taken) complies with all rules for meetings under the relevant retirement villages legislation and common law.

    This may include rules about the giving of meeting notices, who may attend, quorums, voting rights and proxies, voting by former residents of vacated units, the counting of votes, and recording of minutes.

Our advice: engaging the Residents Committee is always a first move.