JUDE BARBACK gets a chance to snoop around a residential aged care facility in Tauranga.

Tauranga rest home and hospital, Bethlehem Views, just celebrated its first birthday, complete with birthday cake, singers, and even belly dancers. The latter was a surprise arranged by manager, Diane Rodger.

“You should have seen their faces,” she laughs. “Some of the men said they had never seen anything like it in their lives!”

There is something heart-warming about the fact that life can still hold surprises for those who are now in rest home care. Indeed, ‘surprising’ is a good word to describe Bethlehem Views, which is part of the Sanderson Group, a family operation, which also developed nearby Bethlehem Country Club, Omokoroa Country Estate, and Cascades rest home in Hamilton.

Bethlehem Views occupies the site of the former Southern Cross Hospital. Gone are the narrow corridors, pokey rooms, and institutional feel. In its place is an opulent and luxurious building.

The reception area is magnificent. I am in no hurry for Rodger to meet me, as I wait, absorbing the hotel lobby music, plush leather and velvet furniture, chandelier, and gold Sanderson family crest. The message they are sending visitors is clear – no expense has been spared in this development. I know better than to judge a book by its cover. However, I am eager to get a feel for the atmosphere and care beyond the lavish lobby area.

Bethlehem Views is a 52-bed rest home and hospital. It has the feel of a new building, and while parts of it are new, it is virtually impossible to tell which parts have been converted from the old Southern Cross hospital. Like the reception, the residents’ lounge is expansive and beautifully furnished, but the eye is drawn immediately to the sweeping views of Tauranga harbour. Some residents sit in their La-Z-boy chairs, all with wheels, taking in the sunny autumn vista. I could happily linger here with them, but I am also keen to see the residents’ rooms.

Each resident’s room is equipped with a hospital-style bed on wheels, a wheeled La-Z-boy, ensuite bathroom, wall-mounted flat-screen television, in-built refrigerator, and ranch-slider onto a terrace. The rooms are spacious, and some are designed to accommodate couples. There are also a small number of interconnecting rooms, although the rooms need to be vacant at the same time to allow residents – possibly a couple or siblings – who wish to make use of the interconnecting door. With a long waiting list, this seems unlikely.

Rodger tells me the rooms were designed to meet the expectations of the next generation of residents, who will no longer accept shared bathrooms and peeling wallpaper.

Hers is an informed opinion. Now general manager for care services at the Sanderson Group, Rodger has managed rest homes since 1990.

“I’ve managed some grotty places,” she says, “This place is an absolute delight.”

It hasn’t all been plain sailing in the first year. A new rest home requires new residents and new staff. Rodger says it took a little while to get the right staff on board, and the home experienced a fair amount of turnover in the early days. New systems to get used to, a handful of difficult residents, and a need to get experienced staff on board all added to the initial flux.

Once the inevitable teething problems settled down, and the core group of staff became established, the home began to find its feet. For all the state-of-the-art architecture and lavish furnishings, it always comes down to the quality of the staff and the care they are able to provide. Rodger agrees wholeheartedly. She cannot speak highly enough of her staff and gives examples where they have come in on their days off to help residents with particular needs.

The staff members I encounter on my tour of the home seem happy and focused. They support each other in their work. In addition to registered nurses, a diversional therapist, and care assistants who work on site, doctors from a nearby practice visit the home on a regular basis and as needed.

The residents appear to relate well to the staff as well. Joyce, who is keen to show me her room, which she has made very homely with fake flowers and crocheted rugs, is full of praise.

“The girls are very nice,” she says warmly.

On my way out, Doug, another resident, tells me I am an “attractive girl”. Having resigned myself that my days of being ‘hit on’ were long over, Doug has made my day, and I leave the home finding it hard to fault Bethlehem Views.


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