In this Q&A, Inside Ageing (IA) spoke with Kate Hawkins, Group Manager for Residential Aged Care and Retirement Villages, Anglicare Southern Queensland. Kate shares details about her journey from Personal Care Worker to a Senior Leadership role and the opportunity for others to pursue a career in the sector.
IA: Can you share some memorable moments or experiences from your early days as a Personal Care Worker that reinforced your passion for aged care, and ultimately your decision to pursue a long-term career?
Kate: I used to go to work with my mum when I was eight years old, so from a very early age I saw what a positive impact and difference aged care workers can have on residents. It was a natural choice to become a Personal Care Worker while I was undertaking my nursing studies and I am so thankful that I did. Working in aged care as a Personal Care Worker equipped me with time management skills and communication skills that helped me as a Graduate Registered Nurse.
I have very fond memories of my time as a Personal Care Worker. It was a challenge but at the same time very rewarding knowing that you’re helping our most vulnerable in their hour of need. I think fundamentally you need to have compassion, support and the ability to make the elderly feel valued and cared for. There is a lot of fun to be had as you can get involved in exercise groups, dancing and cooking activities. Where else do you get this combination? This is the reason I returned to aged care and continue to be nearly 20 years later.
IA: As you progressed through various roles in aged care, such as Clinical Care Manager, Facility Manager, and Project Manager for the Specialist Dementia Care Program Unit, how did each position shape your understanding of the industry and your leadership style?
Kate: I have been fortunate that these roles have exposed me to a variety of key stakeholders, varied environments and also a range of industry challenges. Some of my roles required a steep and quick learning curve. However, I am very appreciative of every opportunity and role as I have gained knowledge and insight into the aged care industry from many different aspects. I have also seen and heard different perspectives on how industry requirements/changes impact staff, consumers and the wider community. This exposure has helped shape my leadership style.
IA: How do you approach change management in the aged care sector, particularly when implementing new processes or changes in response to compliance measures? Could you share an example of a successful change management initiative you led?
Kate: I believe knowledge is power and that teams knowing the ‘why’ and ‘what’s in it for me or the consumer’ is a vital first step in any change process. Additionally, having key stakeholders’ involvement in change design and facilitating transparent communication are also key elements in this practice. Change for many people is difficult so being considerate of this through the journey is essential. I have found a key factor to successful change management is being the role of a motivator and keeping key stakeholders driven around the benefits of the change is key. I always reflect on each change by seeking feedback on the process to identify opportunities for improvement.
Change management has been a focal point of the majority of my roles. One of the most recent changes that I am proud of is the transition from ACFI to AN-ACC. I led an amazing team that did this transition on top of their business-as-usual tasks. During the change process, I worked with the team on establishing the why, the what’s in it for me approach and targeted communication and training. We also praised each other and celebrated the success of the smooth transition to the new funding tool.
IA: In your leadership role, how do you empower and enable staff to deliver quality care to residents? What strategies do you employ to ensure a positive work culture and staff satisfaction?
Kate: I believe the key to being a good leader is to motivate your team to strive to provide quality care every day. I acknowledge that this can be difficult with all the changes that are taking place in the industry. However, I believe that positivity feeds positivity, so I pride myself in modelling an optimistic attitude. Giving teams the confidence that as a leader I acknowledge the challenges but also demonstrate that with commitment, active listening, collaboration and taking action, we can work together to stay true to delivering quality care to our residents. I also enjoy celebrating and having fun with my team in the process.
IA: Throughout your career, you’ve been involved in service enhancement projects. Could you tell us about one of the most rewarding projects you’ve worked on and the impact it had on the residents and staff?
Kate: Service enhancement projects are one aspect of my role that I enjoy as they focus on how we can improve the care/service to our elderly population and also how we can enhance the work environment for staff. Again, I have enjoyed every one of the projects that I have been involved in but especially close to my heart was the introduction of the Specialist Dementia Care Program Unit (SDCPU) at our St Martin’s Residential Aged Care home.
Having been involved in dementia consultancy and hands-on delivery of care in previous roles, I observed the need for specialist dementia care so people living with dementia who experience severe BPSD could have better health outcomes. Editor: Anglicare Southern Queensland and its Specialist Dementia Care Program Unit (SDCPU) – awarded highly commended for Dementia care in the 2022 Future of Ageing Awards…Read more about it here.
The SDCPU enabled me to have a blank canvas and to implement a dementia model of care and best practices that I had wanted to trial. With the SDCPU, we were able to trial different recruitment methods to employ the right people, develop and train our own model and focus on an ever-learning model of care which emphasises personhood and preventative behaviour management.
Anglicare’s SDCPU has been operational for the past three years and the team has observed residents who have bounced around the system come to the SDCPU and regain a quality of life and rebuild relationships with loved ones. We have also noted a decrease in relatives’ stress and families enjoying meaningful visits with their loved ones. And surprisingly, we have observed a staffing model that has resulted in a reduction in staff turnover and an increase in job satisfaction. Such amazing consumer and staff outcomes from a government initiative and one that I have been privileged to be involved in.
IA: As the Group Manager of Residential Aged Care and Retirement Living for Anglicare SQ, what are your key responsibilities and challenges in this position?
Kate: My role as Group Manager oversees and supports the operation of Anglicare Southern Queensland’s eight (8) residential aged care homes. My role supports facility managers and their teams in implementing aged care reforms, driving best practices and ensuring that care is person-centred and meeting the needs of our consumers.
IA: How do you envision the future of aged care, and what are some of the emerging trends or practices that you think will shape the industry moving forward?
Kate: It sure is an interesting time for aged care with rapid changes happening within the industry. While at the moment it may seem overwhelming with transformations, I feel that these changes are putting the focus on aged care being very much a specialty. I am hopeful that the attention to care minutes will have a positive impact on the workloads of aged care so more quality time can be spent meeting the emotional well-being of residents.
I am also excited about the attention dementia care is getting with the introduction of the Specialist Dementia Care Program Unit and I am looking forward to seeing key learnings from this program being implemented into mainstream dementia care units. While the industry is challenging at the moment, I am hopeful and excited about the industry moving forward and glad to be involved in the revolution of the industry.
IA: What advice would you give to someone who is considering a career in aged care, especially those who aspire to grow into a leadership position like you?
Kate: You won’t look back. Of course, it helps to find the right organisation that fits with your values and fosters professional development. Aged care has provided me with many opportunities that have assisted in my professional development and my career progression. I did go back to the acute care sector for some time to see if the grass was greener but found that the aged care sector could better support my career in leadership roles. So, if a leadership role is a career aspiration, I would highly recommend exploring a career in aged care.