JUDE BARBACK visits Selwyn Wilson Carlile Home and Hospital in Hamilton.

It’s been a while since I’ve been down Grey Street in Hamilton. As I drive to Selwyn Wilson Carlile, I’m struck by what a good possy the rest home is in. Cafes, pharmacies and shops on its doorstep and just the mighty Waikato river between it and the city centre.

Back when the home was established, in 1956, perhaps it wasn’t considered quite as central. It was founded by the grandson of Wilson Carlile, a prominent figure in the Church Army.

When it was first established, it was a 12-bed care facility, but it quickly grew to accommodate 20 residents by 1962. By 1973, the home was part of a separate trust and by 1981 it had 57 residents.

The Selwyn Foundation’s involvement didn’t come until much later. After acting as an advisory board for some years, Selwyn eventually took over the Wilson Carlile home in 2008.

The original home, with its bay windows and high ceilings, and architraves still forms part of the facility, which now comprises 20 hospital-level beds and 40 rest home beds. On the same site sits 10 retirement villas.

Rachael Hall, manager of the facility tells me the village is managed by Selwyn’s independent living manager based in Cambridge but its sheer proximity means that the rest home staff look out for the villa residents. “We keep an eye on them,” she says.

Upon meeting Rachael, she immediately strikes me as a very competent manager, and a quick quiz of her credentials confirms my instincts. A registered nurse, she spent 19 years in Waikato Hospital, in which time she became Operations Manager. She completed her MBA, not with a career in residential aged care in mind, but soon discovered that the blend of nursing, business and management made her an ideal candidate for such a role. Her husband, who manages Resthaven Home in Cambridge played a key part in encouraging her to pursue the same line of work.

Rachael has been at the helm of Wilson Carlile since 2010 and I can see that Wilson Carlile is a good fit for her. She says it helps having worked at the hospital for so long as she knows who she is talking to and can trust what they’re saying. She admits to feeling frustrated with certain aspects, such as the delays associated with assessing potential residents, but overall finds her role stimulating, varied and rewarding. “At the end of the day, you’re making life better for someone, even if it’s just something small like putting a picture in a frame for them. It’s definitely a feel-good industry,” she says.

I can also understand why Wilson Carlile was a good fit for Selwyn – the home’s Christian values are aligned with the foundation’s. Indeed, the chapel, located near the reception, takes pride of place. “The residents and their families enjoy gathering there on Sundays,” says Rachael. It is a nice thought; rest homes can sometimes be rather lonely places on weekends.

Rachael tells me that the faith element runs beyond the chapel, and right through to Selwyn’s strategic plan and human resources policies. “It’s also reflected in the Eden Way approach we take here, where we look at care from the resident’s perspective.”

Residents tend to select Wilson Carlile on the basis of its Christian values; they have usually come across it through church or community connections or through visiting friends or family who have been residents.

Selwyn Wilson Carlile occupies its own place in the market. With its rambling, rough-around-the-edges appearance, it is certainly no Hilda Ross, no Cascades, but then it isn’t trying to be. Although it has all the usual components – the recreation room, lounges, a hair salon, a photo wall featuring outings to Raglan and the residents’ Christmas play – it is older and lacks the finesse of its newer, more glamourous counterparts. However, as Rachael points out, not everyone is suited to the likes of Hilda Ross. Price is also a factor in people’s selection and Wilson Carlile is cheaper than most.

Interestingly, the same market logic doesn’t appear to relate to the adjacent retirement village. Despite the location and the relative cheapness of the Selwyn Wilson Carlile villas – Rachael informs me they are priced at around the $195-210k mark – two of the 10 have remained vacant for some time, suggesting that perhaps the sheen and social scene of larger, newer retirement villages equipped with more facilities may be what the retirement village market is seeking.

Back in the home, upholstery samples and the promise of garden renovations suggest an effort is being made to spruce things up. On my tour of the facility, Rachael points out little things she is keen to address – an unkempt courtyard, a rather pointless space filled with arm chairs and a vending machine, for example – and I definitely sense this is a work in progress.

However, upon walking around, it occurs to me that I’m noticing all the wrong things. What I’m missing, is that the home has a real sense of calm, the residents here are happy and peaceful. Instead of colour coordinated pieces of meaningless art on the walls, there are the paintings, scores of them hung outside a resident’s room, celebrating her passion and talent. Instead of immaculate gardens, there is the enormous pumpkin, which the residents visit frequently to monitor its growth for the upcoming annual pumpkin competition.

The pumpkin, Rachael tells me, is a ‘point of interest’, a concept famed by Dr Hans Becker for helping to spark the attention of residents as they go about their days. Another example is the wall displaying quotes from all over the world. “One man with dementia comes to look at it every day and just stands there and cracks up,” says Rachael.

Incidentally, there is no dementia unit, although Rachael says the residents with dementia are grouped together in the same part of the home. The way the rest home is currently set up does not lend itself to a secure unit, but Rachael doesn’t rule it out as an option for the future.

The rest home is divided into three connecting “villas” with a shared dining room, a lay-out that appears to work well.

Rachael has made a real effort to ensure consistent care is given to residents with a system in which the same caregiver looks after the same resident. A caregiver is allocated to each villa of the rest home, but in the evenings they share this responsibility, which allows caregivers the opportunity to get to know residents in other villas. “This is working really well,” says Rachael of the system.

Staff appear to be a strong point at Selwyn Wilson Carlile. “We have very little turnover,” says Rachael, “Some people have worked here a long time. We have a good core of staff.” There are 48 staff in total, or 33 full-time equivalents. This includes seven registered nurses including Rachael and Sabya, the clinical coordinator. Rachael says she is grateful for the casual staff members, who help to significantly reduce the home’s reliance on agencies.

The approach to staff training has been ramped up in recent years. “It used to be done on an ad hoc basis, tacked on to the ends of meetings, but it wasn’t working,” says Rachael. They now operate a more structured system of two days per staff member, making use of training provided by the Waikato DHB, Alzheimers

New Zealand, Health & Disability and other such providers.

At Selwyn, pay is directly related to qualifications, giving staff an incentive to complete their training. This doesn’t surprise me. Selwyn Wilson Carlile Home appears to be an honest-to-goodness sort of place, true to the original values upon which it was founded. I can understand what attracts residents and their families here.

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