JUDE BARBACK visits Carter House in Te Puke, Bay of Plenty.

Carter House is buzzing from yesterday’s Melbourne Cup antics. A couple of residents pass through the entrance foyer boasting cheekily to reception staff about their wins. I wish I’d been there to see the residents and staff wearing their hats, tipple in hand, shouting at the horses. I can only imagine the frivolity in June when the home celebrated its 35th birthday.

“We have a lot of fun,” confirms manager Sharon Owen, who is clearly passionate about aged care. “I’m a real sook when it comes to the elderly,” says Owen, a registered nurse for 23 years who has been managing aged care facilities since 1997. “They’ve loved, they’ve looked, they’ve seen, and have all that experience to offer.”

There are 64 residents at Carter House: 17 in the secure dementia wing, 18 in the rest home and 29 in the hospital. Carter House has 26 retirement village units, which surround the facility.

Anglican Care (Waiapu) Ltd, a not for profit organisation, has owned Carter House since 1994. The village residents integrate seamlessly with those at Carter House. Many like to volunteer to help with activities like housie and bowls as well as join Carter House residents for ‘happy hour’. Village residents are given first priority for beds in the home, helping to provide a smooth continuum of care.

I like this aspect of Carter House – the way it doesn’t pigeon-hole its residents into various categories of care. The large common lounge, dining, and games area located midway between the rest home and hospital wings provides a hub for residents of varying levels of care.

Today, Trixie, the home’s two-year-old Maltese cross, is the centre of attention in the lounge. Trixie is a working dog; her job is to be affectionate to residents and provide a sense of calm. She sits aboard a resident’s walker and is taken for a lap around the room while everyone, myself included, gushes.

Poor Trixie is recovering from a recent attack from another dog, an injury that saw her make the front page of the Te Puke Times. Owen says the local vet has been so generous in aiding Trixie’s recovery.

This isn’t the first time she hints at the close ties Carter House has with the Te Puke community. When three All Blacks visited the town during the World Cup last year, Carter House residents were among those in the grandstand to meet them, shamelessly using the rest home’s name to form a connection with Daniel Carter.

Ninety per cent of the 75 staff are from the Te Puke area.

“My other passion is my staff,” says Owen, who believes Carter House would be nothing without its fantastic team. She believes training is important to keep staff motivated and helps give them a personal sense of achievement. They use the ACE programmes, but also draw on Ruth Thomas’ (Midland Regional Dementia Behavioral Support and Advisory Service Coordinator) expertise for bespoke training on mental health issues when needed. In the entrance foyer, a staff qualifications board is testament to the emphasis placed on training.

Owen says she is “excited” about the roll-out of the interRAI tool to all aged care facilities and is unfazed by the training it will involve, as by the time it is integrated into Carter House, any issues would have hopefully been addressed.

In fact, Owen strikes me as a team player. She is enthusiastic about the collaboration with other aged care providers in the region.

“We’re such a diverse group, we all have something different to offer,” she says.

She is also hugely supportive of the relationship Carter House has with the Bay of Plenty DHB.

The DHB’s mental health department manages the waiting list for the home’s dementia unit, which helps to prioritise those who require this sort of care the most. This arrangement suits Owen as it takes away the burden of deciding who should go into the dementia unit, for which there is high demand.

I sense Owen is particularly proud of the dementia unit and its strong diversional therapy team. Upon our visit, I’m particularly taken with the dementia unit’s garden, with its promise of purple as the lavender and agapanthus get ready to bloom. In true Spark of Life fashion, the garden also has a pitch for golf putting, a clothes line, a mail box, and bus shelters. The interior of the unit is equally stimulating, with textured wall art, photos, and residents’ paintings displayed in common areas.

While some of the dementia unit residents’ rooms have been recently painted, others are in need of redecorating. Owen says they barely can afford the time it would take to repaint, such is the level of demand. If they were to renovate, it would be to extend the dementia unit, she says.

I’m a little surprised there is no mention of any plans to upgrade the resident rooms in the rest home. Like many older rest homes, the bulk of Carter House’s rooms are without ensuites, with the exception of seven rooms – previously manager’s quarters – which all have ensuites and decks. Owen says some residents go on a waiting list for one of the larger rooms, but when one becomes vacant, the resident often chooses to remain in the smaller room with the shared bathroom. I can’t help but wonder if future residents and their families will continue to take this view or whether Carter House will, in time, look to provide ensuites for all its rooms.

For now, however, the status quo appears to be working. While Carter House may lack some of the lustre and polish of newer homes, it has a sense of homeliness that only time can bring to an aged care facility. The residents appear happy and comfortable in their surroundings.

Some facilities I have visited give the sense that residents are not allowed in the reception area for fear of spoiling the ambience; at Carter House, the residents furnish the foyer with their presence and laughter. Today, the bowls team is congregating there and they are eager to be part of the photo. Residents, staff, and manager are all obliging with a “cheese” for the camera, and I hope I have captured the camaraderie and care that epitomises Carter House.


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