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Abbey Gardens aged care facility

Warragul, Victoria

Taking part in a Commbank Design Jam showed Gippsland aged care facility Abbey Gardens how a bank can be more than just a provider of finance. Digging into design theory helped managers and staff imagine new possibilities for their business.

When aged care facility Abbey Gardens took part in a CommBank Design Jam, they found a small change that made a big impact on their business, residents and families.  

Abbey Gardens is a near-new 123-bed aged care facility in the booming Gippsland region of Victoria. It is part of the not-for-profit BaptCare group and is one of only three aged care options in Warragul, which Residential Care & Services Manager Kirstin Fox says is expected to see its population explode to 20,000 in just a few years. 

The $24 million Abbey Gardens complex was opened in 2017 and has about 8000 square metres of floor space and a roof area that extends over about 12000 square metres. It created 100 jobs during construction and fitout and now that it is up and running it employs 176 staff across its three wings. 

Residential Care & Services Manager Kirstin Fox says recognising each resident as an individual and providing plenty of opportunity for meaningful activities and social connection is one of the Abbey Garden’s key goals.

“A new facility is an opportunity to do something different,” she says. 

Individual tastes mean individual meals

One of the biggest challenges in aged care facilities is creating varied, nutritious, enjoyable meals, and Kirstin and the Abbey Gardens team were ready to tackle this head on and try something new.

“In most aged care complexes we do bulk cooking – using big steamers and other equipment to prepare meals. It is very difficult to offer a la carte style options with the way kitchens are set up and staffed, and knowing also how important it is to meet food safety requirements.

“Our residents want more choice and I wanted to be able to give it to them, but we have 123 different taste profiles, 123 different sets of health needs. Some people need meals that are texture modified, some need gluten free, some are diabetic.”

Kirstin was thinking about introducing short order cooking – basically preparing food to order from a menu of choices – and was trying to work out how to convert the kitchen and where to find the budget for such a big change, when she was invited to participate in a CommBank Design Jam.

Shifting the goal posts

Kirstin says she is looking for ways to make the impossible possible. For her, the Design Jam was an opportunity to dig into the science of design thinking. For others in her team, who were naturally more results and process oriented, and a little sceptical of the creative design thinking process, it was an opportunity for inspiration.

“I came out with some tools to help me better see other points of view, and my colleague came out with a real sense of ‘we can do this!’”

More importantly, they walked away with a solution to their problem of how to offer residents greater meal options. 

Through the Design Jam process they realised they didn’t need to do a complete new kitchen fitout, and in fact they didn’t need to move to a fully a la cart menu. Instead, they started offering short order menus in the on-site café, usually used by residents and their families during visits, but now open for residents for dinner.

Now, those residents who prefer the traditional dining room enjoy a quieter space with quicker service and better presented meals, because dining room numbers are lower, while those who choose to eat in the café get an entirely different experience.

“At the end of our initial eight week trial of the café dinner menu, we realised there were so many benefits beyond just more food choice, and some of them would never have happened if we had changed the kitchen and dining room operation."

“Each night we are getting about 25 residents from across our three wings socialising with each other. They get dressed up and make a night of it. They love it and our staff love it because it’s just a much more personal experience for our residents.”

More than a bank

Kirstin says her experience has shown her that a bank can be more than just a provider of finance. “I had never really thought of a bank as more than financial transactions but since we have worked with CommBank I’ve really developed a new perspective. The bank offers us research, links, technology and ideas as well as the funding that helps us get new ideas off the ground.”