I have spent the last couple of days with the people at the Warrigal Care complex on the NSW south coast in Australia. I had a great time because they have created such a wonderful environment of friendliness, caring and respect which applies to everyone.

They run an aged care facility catering for people from those who need a small amount of assistance to continue to live in their own homes in the town to those who need maximum residential care, those who are the most vulnerable in our society.

I was guest speaker at their annual dinner and was impressed with the fact that not only were they proud of their achievements in the past year but they seemed attribute them to everyone involved from the CEO down, or is it the other way up with them? One of the residents from their independent living units was MC for the evening and a choir made up of residents provided the entertainment suggesting that care is not just provided for residents but with them. It is a partnership.

The huge number of volunteers who help in a variety of ways throughout the complex is testament to the way the organisation respects and values everyone. The volunteer workers seem to participate in everything on an equal footing. The fact that they have so many who stay so long and contribute their time and ideas is a tribute to management. Keeping staff is usually a measure of the success of an organisation but when it is volunteer staff, who do it because they love it, and in such huge numbers, takes the standard to a whole new level.

I was taken on a tour the next morning by the CEO and was impressed by the fact that except for the fact that he had a key to open restricted entrances he regarded himself as an equal to staff and residents alike and wanted to be treated as an equal. As a visitor I was introduced to everyone we met regardless of their role. I found this impressive as one of the units had the most vulnerable of our older people in it.

One of the problems our community faces with our ageing population is the increasing number of older people, particularly those who are incapable of looking after themselves, leaving them at risk of abuse. We can’t monitor everything 24 hours a day and we have to be able to trust those with whom we leave our precious ones. The incredibly high standard Warrigal sets shows what can be done and how it should be a standard for others to try to reach. It only differs from other similar organisations in that it is not-for-profit so does that imply that it is the profit makers who reduce the standards elsewhere? Or is it just that the not-for-profit care givers are of a higher calibre with different aims and objectives. Whatever the reason it seems that these people are setting a standard which all those in aged care should be encouraged to follow. The enormous amount of satisfaction and pride the staff at all levels, paid and unpaid, seem to gain from what they are achieving is perhaps a reward for each individual in the whole team.