INsite provides a New Zealand perspective on the damning media scandal involving Australian retirement village operator Aveo.

Following a joint media investigation by Fairfax Media and ABC’s Four Corners, Aveo has come under fire for questionable business practices, including punitive fees, churning of residents, misleading marketing promises and sub-standard safety and emergency services.

Since the investigation, Fairfax Media has reportedly received “hundreds of emails and phone calls from long-suffering residents who have been suffering in silence due to poor regulation”.

The spotlight has been extended to the wider Australian industry after it transpired that recommendations from a 2007 report for tightening industry regulations were never implemented. Federal Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt says he’s disappointed to see the exploitation of retirees and is vowing to take action.

Retirement Village Association (RVA) Executive President Graham Wilkinson says that while there are definitely lessons for Kiwi retirement village operators from this, it is important to note the fundamental differences between the retirement village industries of the two countries.

“Australia doesn’t have statutory supervisors. Their whole industry is in disarray. New Zealand has incredibly tough mandatory disclosures,” he says.

Nonetheless, regardless of how tight the regulations are, Wilkinson believes that retirement village operators have a duty to do the right thing by their residents.

“You can’t defend the indefensible,” he says. “You’re judged on what happens, not what the law says.”

Aveo has been noticeably quiet on the matter, other than pointing out that their independent resident survey shows that 98 per cent of residents would make the same choice to live in a retirement village if they had their time over.

Fairfax says that the survey findings aren’t enough to let Aveo off the hook, reporting that staff members have claimed that the surveys are only completed by a fraction of residents, many with dementia.

Wilkinson says that regardless of what the survey shows, the media will focus relentlessly on the unhappy residents. Considering how damaging this approach is for the reputation and share price of a retirement village organisation, Wilkinson says a village can’t afford to get it wrong for any resident.

As president of the RVA executive, Wilkinson’s focus has been on “ironing out the wrinkles” of New Zealand’s retirement village industry.

“Should the RVA be considering monitoring devices in new-build independent villas? Or a policy of checking on residents every day? I’m not saying this is what necessarily has to happen, but we need to be constantly thinking of these things to ensure our industry is robust.”

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