Being a relatively small aged care and hospital provider throws up both challenges and distinct advantages for St Vincent’s Lismore.
CEO of St Vincent’s Steve Brierley says it allows them to make decisions and move ahead more rapidly.
It has allowed St Vincent’s to expand its services in the aged care sector in the last decade and with the area being a haven for retirees this is a growth area.
“The majority of our services really, in some way or other, are dealing with the diseases of ageing,” says Steve.
“We recently completed a master plan a bit over a year ago in which we recognised there was going to be a need for an expansion of our services to meet the needs of a growing and aging community.
The north coast of NSW is a big draw card for retirees. And so, we have grown our services, and the profile of our services are actually quite compatible with where we see the needs in the future.”
Its position on the mid north coast has allowed St Vincent’s to become a major strategic player in the region, which is aided by being part of the broader Catholic Network. But, it can still be a challenge when negotiating with health funds or suppliers.
Steve adds: “As a small site we have very little bargaining power but strategically we are an important part of private health care services in our region. That is recognised by both our funders and those that supply us, and so we do have a reputation and a market share that is valuable.”
St Vincent’s will be celebrating its 100th birthday next year. It began with the help of the Sydney-based Sisters of Charity at the behest of the Bishop of Lismore who recognised the need for another hospital in the region.
Aged care followed in the 1980s but still to this day the site and buildings are owned by the Diocese of Lismore which provides a very strong and unique community connection.
But, whilst St Vincent’s ethos is focused on providing effective pastoral care service, its users choose its privately run services because of its standards, locality and its clinicians.
“We, as a Catholic hospital do have our mission and values drive and underpin everything we do here. But we don’t proselytise. We provide a pastoral care service that is we think just as valid, whether you have a faith or you have no faith.
“It is in line with what we see as the importance of holistic care, providing for the spiritual as well as the physical needs of the patient. Being a Catholic Hospital, I think we have to be very careful how we demonstrate that particularly as we have clergy on the pastoral care team but I think they do that very, very well.”
Over the last few months, COVID-19 has of course affected the entire sector but in the Lismore region there have been very, very low cases of the virus. It’s something Steve is thankful for being a small operator. “I only have one leadership team, I only have one boarding team. My residential management team consists of a manager and a care co-ordinator. We don’t have, as groups would have, a lot more heads around the table to work through the issues and the millions of words coming out of government departments every day, how they can be interpreted and applied in a practical level to ensure the safety of all our people on this campus.”
The aged care facility, St Joseph’s, now has some 130 beds after an expansion in 2012 and an acquisition of another 50 bed facility. But many of which are shared. The team is currently exploring how they can utilise the hospital in case any COVID outbreak hits their facility and have undergone scenario planning to ensure they are prepared.
“We worked through a scenario of a wing of 30 residents, nearly all in shared accommodation and how that could be managed effectively. So, we’ve worked hard on that.”
The team is also focusing on beyond COVID and to the future with plans to become an even larger hospital providing even more services to the community. Currently, it has 86 beds, five operating theatres, an endoscopy unit, renal service, oncology service and day rehabilitation service.
There are also plans to develop a new 130 to 140 bed aged care facility. “That’s something we’re very excited about and feel that, with our reputation in the community and the needs of the community, we will continue to be a major player for residential aged care in our region,” he says.