JUDE BARBACK finds Tauranga’s Aspen Care Rest Home in the middle of exciting changes.

As far as Tauranga real estate goes, it doesn’t get much better than the spot occupied by Aspen Care Rest Home. The residents’ lounge and dining room overlooks the harbour, which today glistens beautifully in the winter sunshine.

Manager Mary McDonald says when she first took over the management at Aspen, in November last year, the chairs were all facing the television so she went about facing some of them towards the view. “But they still turn them back to face the telly,” she says with a laugh.

There is a small cluster of residents there now, doing just that – facing the telly. They quiz Logan, Aspen’s flamboyant administrator, about when his morning exercise class is taking place.

The majority of the residents are being whisked off in a van to the 65+ club, basically a local set-up for older people to catch up over a cuppa. I get the sense the residents move at their own pace, getting involved with as much or as little as they please.

One resident, McDonald tells me, is hardly ever there as she juggles 65+ club with bingo, coffee mornings and other social engagements. “We’re happy to take any of our residents in the van to wherever they need to go, and pick them up when they’re ready.”

Being a small rest home, they can accommodate residents’ requests and engagements. It has just 54 rest home-level beds in total – and like other small facilities I have visited in the past,- it possesses a real sense of community. Aspen was previously owned by Oceania, but sold in September 2014 to three Tauranga businessmen.

Being locally owned, McDonald says there is a real effort made to support local businesses and those of the residents’ families. One resident’s daughter is a florist, so she supplies the home’s flowers. Another’s son is a coffee importer so he supplies their coffee; he also runs the men’s group.

Changes bring challenges 

The home, originally a Salvation Army rest home built in the 1970s, has undergone massive changes since the new owners took over.

Half of the home is a building site. There are builders and tools and half-finished rooms. It is noisy. It will be good when the work is done, however. I see some of the completed rooms, which look fresh and spacious. There are some interesting features to note, including a converted larger room, which McDonald hopes might eventually become a palliative care suite. The home’s famed sensory lounge and garden will be restored as well.

McDonald says the renovation, while exciting, has been challenging for the residents and staff, particularly due to the amount of noise. However, one resident, who has taken an avid interest in the builders’ progress, frequently critiquing their work, says he will miss them when they’re gone.

The work is expected to be finished in the near future, closely followed by a Ministry of Health audit. Following the audit, Aspen expects to achieve hospital certification and looks forward to extending the services provided to their residents.

McDonald says it will be good to be able to offer hospital-level care.

“We have one resident who has recently been reassessed and needs hospital-level care. He has been here for 10 years, so he is sad that he has to leave his mates and the staff.”

In addition to the changes to the building, there has also been a lot of flux with staffing, which I sense has brought its own challenges. Many of the senior staff have retired and in their place there is a newer, more diverse team. Diversity brings its own challenges and McDonald says there are some female residents who prefer not to be cared for by the two male caregivers, and some residents who have objected to being cared for by caregivers of certain ethnicities.

I find this confronting and saddening; McDonald agrees, but says she respects the residents’ rights. “Nothing is ever an issue. All requests are respectfully dealt with. Our carers know it’s not personal. It’s about protecting our resident’s rights.”

While Aspen isn’t required to have a registered nurse on site at all times, McDonald says they have recently recruited a new grad nurse. Aspen has two full-time registered nurses, and both think it is important to support and encourage new people coming into aged care.

“It’s about giving back,” says McDonald.

When I ask why aged care generally isn’t perceived as an attractive option for nurses, McDonald reflects that perhaps they are not convinced that aged care nursing is ‘real’ nursing, as it lacks the emergency content found in hospital settings.

“Aged care is a great place to be; it grounds you, hones your skills and you learn so much about history.” McDonald is a nurse herself. A latecomer to nursing, she worked as a carer while studying. She says she has done every shift possible at Aspen, from cleaning and laundry to the night shifts.

Collaboration and independence

Aspen has a good relationship with the other aged care facilities in Tauranga and they collaborate on a variety of activities and professional development.

“We pride ourselves on the care we provide, and our friendliness. We encourage family involvement and the independence of our residents.”

The camaraderie between residents and staff is clearly evident. I am shown a lovely garden that is apparently the pride, joy and responsibility of Bill, a resident. McDonald jokes with Bill about an escapade where they went on a gardening-related mission to Bunnings but couldn’t find it and ended up driving all around the Bay.

I am looking forward to returning to Aspen to see the home when the work is complete; however, it is nice to catch it in the throes of change. While the commotion and dust must no doubt be frustrating and inconvenient for all, the home is in good heart.


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