Across regional Australia, businesses of every kind find it hard to attract and retain staff, but Renee and Matt Kelly have managed to build an allied health business with a team of nearly 40 in regional Victoria by focusing on career progression and values alignment.

Renee, an occupational therapist and Matt, an accountant, live on a 10,000-acre wheat and sheep property outside Mildura with their four kids. Balancing their family obligations and running the farm means they require a lot of flexibility in their roles with their health business, Lime Therapy – and they recognise that their team members need it, too.

"We practise what we preach to give our team members the best of both worlds. I feel responsible for my team’s career progression. When you bring highly qualified, specialised people into a regional community you have to give them a worthwhile career and let them make the most of what a regional location can offer. We’re flexible, we’re social, we offer balance. When we meet a potential team member, I tell them they are interviewing us as much as we are interviewing them. We want them to meet our needs, but we have to meet theirs, too.”

Creating opportunity for patients and professionals

Lime Therapy offers speech therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, hand therapy, exercise physiology and a specialised paediatric service called Lime Legends – and Renee says she is always open to talking to professionals with new ideas.

“I have a real passion for making a difference and being the difference and I have a constant burn to improve healthcare, so if someone comes to me with a skillset that can address a gap, I’m ready to invest in that. Convince me of the need and I’ll create the job, I’ll buy the equipment, I’ll set up the clinic.”

That desire to improve healthcare is what got Renee started, initially working with a few patients while Matt was at footy on the weekends.

“We live in an area with a vulnerable, ageing community and there was a big need for allied health services,” she says.

Starting out with a few business cards with her home address on them, Renee discovered she was quickly reaching capacity, but the demand was still there, so she started recruiting. She and Matt now employ a range of professionals who have relocated from metro centres as far away as Brisbane and Perth, who have bought houses and settled down in the Sunraysia region.

CommBank delivers trust and understanding

Renee says CommBank has been an integral part of Lime Therapy’s growth because the bank has always understood and trusted them.

“The bank has been alongside us the whole way, through the ebbs and flows, not in and out of the business when we have needed something, but really partnering with us. They know how we operate. They know we are innovators, and they understand that if one part of the business is lean, we’re doing better in another part. They have built a rapport with us and allowed us to do what we have needed to grow the business. Their level of communications, their access to data and their consultative approach has meant a lot to us.”

Renee says optimising the broader health matrix, including public and private healthcare, still has a way to go, but she believes there is great opportunity for the system to work collaboratively in the interests of patients.

“The idea of healthcare and making money is like oil and water, but it doesn’t have to be. Public and private health don’t need to stay in their lanes. Government schemes like NDIS are recognising the value of private providers, but we as health carers need to be better at valuing our time, knowledge and skills. You can be efficient, effective, profitable and obtain really good health outcomes, including for the most vulnerable members of society.”

Finding the upside

Covid, unsurprisingly, was a big challenge for a business that operates through face-to-face appointments, but Renee maintained a positive outlook.

“I can always see opportunity in crisis. There always is.”

In fact, she says the swift adoption of telehealth has been the great silver lining of Covid for rural and remote health, and she is excited to continue to use it to stretch health resources into places it has been hard to reach.

Now that in-person visits are back on the agenda, though, Renee is excited to build the next phase of her business’s physical presence.

“We have outgrown our current location, not only in terms of size but in our values. Our current space is too clinical. We are designing a new centre of excellence that will have a hydrotherapy pool and a universally accessible gym for people who can’t use mainstream gyms. The environment will put the needs of people first, with spaces to stand or sit, to grab a coffee or snack, to charge their phones, laptops and relax. A quarter of the building will be for our team, where they can chat, learn together or just take a breath and reenergise in the comfort of the surroundings.

“The bank has been incredible, trusting that this is the right next step for us and supporting us to make it happen.”