Diane Topschij took on the manager’s role at Ultimate Care Group’s Bishop Selwyn rest home in Christchurch not long after the Canterbury earthquakes, in 2011. Amidst the upheaval of post-quake Christchurch and the aged residential care sector, Diane pondered what she could do to retain staff.

“We knew we had to offer good care – and to offer good care, we needed to offer our staff good education,” she said.

Ultimate Care Group was involved in the GAP (Gerontology Acceleration Programme) as a member of the programme’s advisory panel. Bishop Selwyn’s Clinical Services Manager participated in the pilot, leaving Diane to temporarily take on the role of Clinical Services Manager as well as Facility Manager for six months.

Diane saw this as a perfect opportunity to bolster the facility’s approach to education and training and to give nursing staff the opportunity to upskill and gain expertise in key areas. They introduced portfolios for Registered Nurses (RNs) – areas of interest in which they could specialise. One RN took on infection control, another took on palliative care, another wound management, and so on.

They began to roll out the portfolio programme for new grads, introducing “junior portfolios”. Aged care nursing has often struggled to attract nursing graduates, however the chance to further their education through specialising in particular areas made Ultimate Care Bishop Selwyn an appealing option for new RNs.

When Oksana arrived as a new grad RN, she took on the role of weight management champion. Through on-the-job learning, she learned the fundamentals of weight management in older people, and about referrals and liaising with GPs.

One of the expectations of the programme is to share the learning and experience with the team. As such, the RNs deliver in-service education on their particular area. They also report back to the facility quality committee and engage in an ongoing goal-setting process which helps Bishop Selwyn achieve Ultimate Care Group’s service quality expectations.

“We set our goals every year and then at the end of the year we reflect on how well we achieved them,” says Michelle, the Clinical Services Manager.

As a result, Bishop Selwyn has a highly qualified staff, with most RNs having achieved a Level 7 or 8 post-grad certificate or diploma.

“It’s given us a great foundation for our care,” says Diane. “It means we don’t have to send people to hospital as much as we have the expertise in house.”

Ultimate Care Bishop Selwyn’s approach to education has lifted the bar for staff beyond the RNs. Diane says when recruiting caregivers she clearly explains the level she expects them to reach. Consequently, she has found that caregivers will often seek out employment at Bishop Selwyn because of its approach to education and training. Diane gives the example of a member of the kitchen staff who has recently completed a Level 4 cookery course.

It takes Diane and Michelle a while to calculate how many caregivers employed at Bishop Selwyn have gone on to become RNs – in the end it’s an impressive total of six.

Diane is particularly grateful for the support of the Canterbury DHB. She says they have been instrumental in allowing RNs access to online learning tools. They have also been very supportive with RNs’ preceptorships, facilitating career progression for many.

“Through education, we’re empowering RNs,” says Diane, “It helps their independence of practice and it empowers them to really understand the Health & Disability Standards in a particular area.”

What started as a solution to become a more attractive workplace and employer has now become a way of life for Ultimate Care Bishop Selwyn. It even earned them an award at last year’s New Zealand Aged Care Association awards for innovation in education delivery. Now it is about introducing this model across the wider Ultimate Care group.

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