JUDE BARBACK has a look around one of Wellington’s oldest and most central aged care facilities.

I am intrigued by the ‘Inmates’ Register’ displayed in a glass cabinet in Te Hopai’s reception area, its yellowed pages and ornate handwriting hinting at an interesting history. The manager, Pakize Sari, tells me that Te Hopai is built on land adjacent to the Wellington Hospital, originally vested by Her Majesty the Queen in the late 1800s, and was one of the first care homes in New Zealand designated for the aged and needy.

I sense that Pakize, who has managed the 104-bed facility for the past seven years, is proud of the home’s stake in history. However, she is quick to point out that today it is a thoroughly modern operation. Certainly, there is not an inmate in sight.

Renovations and upgrades occur throughout the rest home, hospital, and dementia wings approximately every 15 years. The developments in 1996 saw rooms in the hospital wing altered to include ensuites, sacrificing every third existing room to achieve the expansion. The matron’s flat was also converted into part of the dementia unit, which with the latest development in 2006, increased the number of dementia beds from 10 to 16.

Despite a waiting list of over a year for the dementia beds, Pakize was quick to quash my enquiry about increasing the number of beds to 20; she clearly thinks 20 is too many and that the current level of 16 is just right.

I can’t help but agree with her as I enter the dementia suite. The residents, who are just about to enjoy morning tea, seem to fit the common lounge and kitchen area perfectly. The care staff and volunteers buzz cheerfully about. The suite is light and airy and still maintains its ‘new’ feeling from the 2006 renovations. Pakize is keen for me to meet Julie, the care manager of the dementia unit. I get the impression she is proud of her staff, particularly the managers of the separate wings.

Two of the care managers are currently studying towards a Master of Nursing degree. There is strong emphasis on research and academia among the management staff. Pakize tells me this is largely due to the importance placed on research by some of the trustees of the Te Hopai charitable trust and their links to research institutions. These alliances allow students to carry out their research at Te Hopai; recently, a music therapy Masters student completed a placement in the dementia unit and two postgraduate-level studies are undertaken by Victoria University of Wellington.

Education and training in general are important aspects at Te Hopai. I met Sam, the facility’s quality and training manager, who is also involved in further study; she is working towards her nurse practitioner qualification. Sam tells me that in addition to the ACE programmes, literacy and computer training, and general caregiver training days, Te Hopai also offers targeted training for caregivers, which involves monitoring and observing the caregivers and then addressing any specific gaps in their training or skills. Te Hopai also collaborates with other institutions where possible. For instance, they take part in training provided by the Mary Potter hospice about nutrition.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Pakize says Te Hopai has low levels of staff turnover. She also says the central location and the public hospital’s nursing hostel are drawcards for staff.

Despite the fun that must take place – as evidenced by the bright decorations for the recent Royal Jubilee celebrations and photos of residents at various activities – there is a real sense of calm and peacefulness at Te Hopai. In the dining room, a group of residents listen quietly to the activities coordinator read through the newspaper for them. In another nook, a gentleman sits in his wheelchair, with his own newspaper and a cup of tea, enjoying the sunshine and solitude.

I sense that beneath the serene veneer, there are a lot of busy people working to ensure the warm atmosphere and high-quality care. Pakize admits that keeping everything running smoothly to a high standard is certainly one of the challenges of running Te Hopai. Meeting compliance requirements and managing the expectations of family members are also ongoing challenges.

Pakize says she is well supported by the board of the Te Hopai charitable trust, which is run by a chair and eight volunteer trustees, who provide a balance of business, quality of care, and research expertise in their leadership of Te Hopai.

Pakize also speaks warmly of her relationship with the Capital & Coast District Health Board (CCDHB) and describes its funding manager as responsive and supportive. This is refreshing to hear.

Te Hopai has more development on the horizon. The architectural plans Pakize rolls out in front of me reveal a major expansion of the facility into the existing car park. A further 100 hospital beds will be added, allowing for some of the existing hospital beds to be converted into a second dementia unit. Construction is expected to begin next year.

As I wait for my taxi, I look at the ‘Inmates’ Register’ again and I wonder if the founders of Te Hopai envisaged the thriving and expanding facility it would become over a century later. If the management of Te Hopai has always been of the calibre it appears to be today, then quite possibly, they did.

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