Grace Munro Centre resident Enid Mallon is visited by her daughter and grandchildren every day. (ABC New England North West: Donal Sheil)
An 11-bed regional aged care facility is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary as a community-owned organisation, which has kept jobs and residents in town while proving the viability of an innovative new model for aged care.
- The Grace Munro Centre was slated for closure in 2009 after a private care provider deemed it financially unviable
- The community fundraised and negotiated to purchase the facility to run it independently
- Since becoming a fully accredited independent care home, it has turned a profit each year
It was a daunting prospect for Bundarra local Enid Mallon to face leaving her hometown in the NSW Northern Tablelands to enter aged care.
“It wouldn’t have been real good, I would’ve really missed it,” she said.
After a brief stint in the north-west New South Wales town of Ashford, the 82-year-old great grandmother returned to Bundarra last year when a bed became available at the town’s only aged care facility, the Grace Munro Centre.
Since reuniting with her family, Ms Mallon said she had found a new community within the home.
“It’s like one big family here because we know each other and we all talk, and the staff are all friendly and nice. It really is lovely,” she said.
“I know it’s not that far away if anything happened and I rang.
“They’d be here in no time.”
Enid Mallon returned to Bundarra in time to celebrate her 82nd birthday with her family. (ABC New England North West: Donal Sheil)
In many small towns like Bundarra, residents face leaving their homes forever to access aged care.
Ms Mallon’s daughter Patricia Berry said the 200-kilometre-plus round trip to Ashford to visit her mother was becoming onerous, and she was elated to welcome her back home.
“The travelling was so far, and she didn’t have any family out that way,” Ms Berry said.
“Having Mum back at Bundarra at Grace Munro is really great.
“She’s got everyone close by to come and visit her everyday.”
‘Nobody gets overlooked’
Opened in 2004, the Grace Munro Centre was deemed financially unviable by private care provider McLean Care and slated for closure in 2009.
After fierce resistance, the community gathered to raise funds and negotiated the purchase of the facility to run it independently.
By early 2010, the Grace Munro Centre was a fully accredited independent care home with a newly formed board of directors and auxiliary fundraising body.
Since being reclaimed by the community, the care home has turned a profit each year.
After a career in large aged care centres, Penny Abbington (left) says she sees the benefits of small facilities. (ABC New England North West: Donal Sheil)
Manager and registered nurse Penny Abbington came to the Grace Munro Centre in 2011 after an career in both remote Indigenous facilities and 100-plus-bed aged care centres.
She said proving the financial feasibility of the independent care model was a massive success for the community.
“Being able to go it alone has shown that it is viable.
“There’s a pride in what people do, that it’s a reflection of their community that this facility is here in a little tiny town of 200 people.”
Despite being one of the smallest care homes in NSW, the Grace Munro Centre still provides a significant boost to the local economy, employing 14 people from Bundarra.
Keeping staff local has also proven beneficial for the high standards of care, including palliative treatment.
96-year-old Bundarra local Trig Cox is the Grace Munro Centre’s longest serving resident. (ABC New England North West: Donal Sheil)
“The care is really personalised, to a much greater intensity than is possible in a bigger facility,” Ms Abbington said.
She said allowing local residents to receive care and ultimately pass away within their community was a source of pride for her and her staff.
“In big facilities, people can get lost and overlooked, whereas here, nobody gets overlooked.
With only 11 beds, the Grace Munro Centre is one of the state’s smallest aged care homes. (ABC New England North West: Donal Sheil)
“Because we’re little, they get to know us, and they can talk to us if they have concerns, and that’s really positive.”
Ms Abbington said she hoped the centre’s next decade would simply bring “more of the same”, and continue to strengthen the local-for-local care model.
“There’s always going to be a need for people to have somewhere to go,” she said.
“I would like to think that we remain viable, [and] both have staff from the local area and fill out beds from the local area.”
Can a community-care model be replicated on a national scale?
Pat Sparrow, CEO of Ageing and Community Services Australia (ACSA), Australia’s leading advocacy group for not-for-profit aged care facilities, said the success of the Grace Munro Centre was “remarkable and wonderful”.
But Ms Sparrow said every community required a bespoke approach for its aged care solutions.
“In that instance, in that community, that’s what really worked,” she said.
“In other communities, different organisations have different models that engage with the community.
“They’ve grabbed hold of the service, kept it local, looked after local people and it shows a real community spirit and community determination to make it a success.”
Penny Abbington says it’s important for elderly residents to be in their hometown. (ABC New England North West: Donal Sheil)
Providing evidence for the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, Ms Sparrow said allowing locals to remain in their community was a major benefit to residents’ mental and physical health.
“What is important is keeping people at home and in the community that they love.
“That’s really important as people get older,” she said.
“What’s important now is that we have a national conversation about what the community wants and expects, and how … as providers and as a community we can make sure we can deliver that into the future.”