INsite editor, JUDE BARBACK talks to Metlifecare CEO Glen Sowry about the company’s bold new approach to care, in terms of both facility design and care delivery.

It has been nearly a year since Glen Sowry took on the role of chief executive for Metlifecare. When we last spoke, at last year’s Retirement Villages Association conference, much of our conversation hovered around the notion of how to put the ‘care’ into Metlifecare. In the past, Metlifecare’s focus has been more on independent living, with its retirement village business dominating its market offering and just nine per cent of the company’s product was care.

However, this is rapidly changing. Sowry says they are incorporating care facilities into all new villages and where possible, retro-fitting care facilities into its existing villages.

But it’s the approach Metlifecare is taking that is intriguing. They’ve decided to steer well clear of large, institutional type care facilities with long corridors and huge communal spaces, and instead have opted for the ‘homestead model’ featuring smaller home-like environments. This model sees a departure from the traditional approach to design and building rest homes. Using roughly the same amount of space, it divides the facility into ‘pods’, with each pod comprising a homely communal dining/kitchen area to serve around 12 residents, their ensuite rooms close by.

It appears to be the direction in which residential aged care is now moving. Selwyn Foundation recently announced a similar ‘household’ layout for its new 90-bed care facility at Selwyn Village, and Elizabeth Knox Home & Hospital in Auckland has favoured this household approach for years. The new Whare Aroha dementia village in Rotorua also uses the household concept.

This approach to layout and design is thought to be best practice, according to international research. It also plays nicely into Metlifecare’s approach to its customer. Customer experience is one of three major focus areas for the company – the other two being commercial intensity and accelerated growth – and Sowry says the company takes “a holistic view” of their customers.

“When we think about who our customer is, we think about the resident and their support eco-system – particularly their family and friends.”

The homestead model lends itself to family being more involved with the resident’s life.

“One of the great fears people have is loss of connectivity to family,” says Sowry.

The homestead model will feature in the new 49-bed care facility at Metlifecare’s Greenwich Gardens Village in Auckland, and Somervale Village in Tauranga, which are set to open in July and October respectively.

At this stage, the intention is to continue to roll the model out to future care facilities it builds in new and existing villages, provided it meets the needs of each village and is commercially viable. Each village is treated on a case-by-case basis.

For example, Metlifecare has decommissioned its care facility at Pakuranga and the plan is to redevelop the village with a new care facility.

“And in some cases we simply can’t physically retrofit care,” he says, “Some villages just don’t have the space.”

But in such cases there is often the possibility to utilise a hub-and-spoke model whereby residents at a village without a care facility can have access to a nearby village that does. For example, Somervale’s new care facility will have capacity to serve both its own residents and those of nearby Bayswater Village in Mount Maunganui.

Sowry is keen for Metlifecare to remain future-focused when it comes to growing its care strategy. He says the company is not only focusing on the built form, but also the human element – the way care is delivered.

To this end, Metlifecare undertook some research in partnership with Massey University to better understand the effects of person-centred care, based on the Eden Alternative care model. Massey’s Dr Polly Yeung declared the results of the pilot to be “a resounding success” and consequently Metlifecare is looking to roll out their own version of care strategy across its sites.

“We want to deliver a service where we are genuinely treating the resident as a customer,” says Sowry, “This means letting residents eat when they want to, shower when they want to, go to bed when they want to.”

The exciting part is that it appears to be a continuous journey of learning, reflection and improvement. From its research initiatives, to its new approaches to care strategy and facility design, to its partnership with celebrity chef Simon Gault to makeover its menus, it’s apparent that Metlifecare is intent on not sitting still as it strives to achieve its three major focus areas.

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