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JUDE BARBACK visits a small Matamata rest home close to her heart.

It is the first time I’ve visited Rawhiti Lodge Care in Matamata since my grandmother was a resident there; it feels strange to be back there years later. My granny had always expressed a wish to live at Rawhiti when the time came for her to move into care. In her more independent years she would visit friends there and declared that she liked the homely feel of the place.

Rawhiti has lost nothing of that homeliness that so appealed to my granny. It is a beautiful old homestead converted into a rest home. It still bears the grand entranceway and beautiful, big bay windows of the original manor, and feels like one large home, even with the newer rooms, ramps and fittings. I even ring the bell before gaining entry – it feels appropriate.

I’m met by manager Hazel Lamberth in the foyer. She is keen to have me visit, eager to raise the profile of Rawhiti.

“Tradesmen come here and will say things like, ‘I’ve lived in Matamata my whole life, yet I never knew this place existed!’” she says. “People just don’t know about us.”

Tucked away at the end of a quiet cul de sac, it isn’t hard to see how Rawhiti flies under the radar. It is privately owned, one of three facilities belonging to the owners. The home is licensed for 24 people and currently has just 16 residents.

Hazel says it is difficult to compete with larger homes in the area that offer a continuum of care. Rawhiti is licensed for Stage 2 rest home-level care, offering a narrow window between independent living and hospital-level care. The assessment thresholds of frailty and acuity appear to be increasing. People are remaining longer in their homes, so that by the time a needs assessment results in a rest home referral, the resident is actually on the cusp of needing hospital-level care.

Hazel says they have had three residents in the last year who have been assessed in their homes as needing Stage 2 rest home-level care, only to find that they need to be reassessed and transferred to hospital-level care at a different facility within a few months.

But not everyone wants to spend their final days in a big, busy facility. Many people – like my late grandmother – crave the intimate, friendly atmosphere at smaller homes like Rawhiti.

Yet the smaller homes have to meet the same compliance requirements as the larger ones, with no recognition that they are operating on a significantly smaller scale. And the low level of funding does not help.

“There is no doubt the whole aged care sector is underfunded,” says Hazel. “It’s very challenging as there is so much we’d like to be able to do.”

But they make do. A raised garden bed, which is planted and looked after by residents, provides seasonal veges for residents’ meals. This was made possible by fundraising from staff and support from local businesses. The gardens and beautiful grounds are maintained by Willy – their gardener who, along with his wife Faye, also works as a caregiver.

Hazel, who comes from a district nursing background, knows all about larger rest homes, having managed Ryman’s Malvina Major rest home facility and Enliven’s Woburn Home, among others.

 

She says at larger homes it is difficult to escape the institutionalised feeling; 60 residents can make for heavy workloads and busy, noisy mealtimes.

By contrast, she feels that providing individualised care and a familiar home-like environment is more achievable at a smaller facility like Rawhiti.

For example, the home pays for a masseuse to provide hand and foot massages to all the residents once a month.

“I think that therapeutic touch is so important for older people,” says Hazel.

They cruise the internet as a group, bringing up Google Earth on a big-screen TV and allowing the residents to find their old houses or those of their children all over the world.

“They also love checking out the local real estate online,” says activities coordinator Sandy. “They like looking at all the photos of the million-dollar properties, commenting on the decor and furniture.”

Sandy says the residents aren’t shy about speaking up – especially when it comes to food.

A real effort is made to cook what the residents like. All food is cooked on site and they make good use of the homegrown produce.

As a result, Rawhiti recently received an Excellence rating for its food service, of which they’re very proud.

The home values the principles of the Eden Alternative and tries to incorporate animals and plants into daily life for the residents. Molly and Sammy, the Rawhiti felines, are testament to this.

“We try to make Rawhiti as much like their home as we possibly can,” says Hazel.

The residents enjoy regular “tiki tours around town” as well as other activities, like the monthly church service, Friendship Circle outing and happy hour. They also love the monthly visits from musician Mike, who happens to be there during my visit.

The residents are enthralled by Mike, who is entertaining them with his guitar and a throng of well known tunes. They are barely aware of my presence as they sing along to White Cliffs of Dover, Ten Guitars and the like – a room full of smiling faces. While I miss my granny’s face among them, I’m pleased to find Rawhiti in good heart.

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