A retirement village where you can shop, dine, go to church and school

A big vision for the future of aged care

He’s only been in the job for a month, but already Anglicare Sydney’s new CEO Simon Miller has a big vision for expanding its aged care services.

His vision is to create integrated communities that not only bring seniors together, but also bring the outside world in.

“It’s this idea of moving from what used to be called independent living – people now call it retirement living – to seniors living or seniors thriving. So thinking about how do you thrive as you age? I’m really keen to think about what’s the next thing that we can do,” Miller tells Eternity.

He gives examples: “As people age differently [today], people want to stay in their own homes and remain independent for longer. I really want to bring together what has historically been called independent living, and home care, and think about how we can start to provide the services that allow people to stay in their independent units for as long as possible.

“But then going beyond that, how do we think about connecting those villages to the community? So they’re not gated communities where you might go and visit your aunty on a Saturday afternoon. But actually, they’re connected into the life of the community.”

In this vision of integrated communities, there are connections to local churches and potentially shops and restaurants along with opportunities for grandparents to have their grandchildren nearby in preschool or childcare.

“Now all of these things we’re exploring. So we don’t know exactly what the shape of it will look like yet.”

“Ageing well is about, partly, connectedness.” – Simon Miller

In saying that, this vision is already a reality at Anglicare’s Oran Park retirement village in southwest Sydney.

“Here we’ve got a retirement village next to school, next to a church – all on one campus. And we’re looking to see if we can do more of these campuses that connect schools, early childhood centres, churches and retirement living. We’re now doing restaurants and cafes that people from the community can actually come into. It’s early days, but it’s the idea of when you’re retired, you’re not stepping out of life – you’re stepping into life,” says Miller.

This connection is particularly important in light of the high rates of social isolation experienced by older people. One-quarter of Australians aged 65 and over live alone, and around one in five (19 per cent of) older Australians are defined as socially isolated – with minimal contact with other people.

Miller is keen to rethink the way our society addresses care for older Australians.

“We’ve had this very modern Western idea of the nuclear family, being Mum and Dad and a couple of kids. When you start thinking about what ageing well looks like in other societies, we’ve lost that intergenerational context – grandparents and great-grandparents and grandchildren being involved together, and being involved together in the lives of other people’s extended intergenerational families.”

Miller’s goal for seniors living is part of a larger vision that spans Anglicare’s other services. These include food and financial assistance, housing, foster care and adoption services, counselling and mediation, and mental health support.

“I love the idea that Anglicare is a place that creates families,” Miller enthuses. “It helps to heal families when things aren’t going well. It is family when people don’t have family, and it’s about connecting families together across generations. So I’m starting to explore the idea of what does it mean for Anglicare to play a role in supporting family? And that then ties quite nicely into the whole idea of ageing well. Ageing well is about, partly, connectedness.”

Lessons learnt

As Miller steps into leadership of Anglicare, the organisation – like other aged-care service providers – is still unpacking lessons learnt from its response to COVID-19. For Anglicare, many of these lessons relate to the outbreak at Newmarch House in Sydney in April 2020, which led to the death of 17 residents from the disease.

The experience has taught Anglicare how to better prepare for and manage a crisis, including how to keep residents connected to their families during such times, says Miller. He points to the way several Anglicare properties managed preparations and evacuations during the recent floods in northern NSW and Queensland.

In addition to COVID management, the aged-care industry is also still digesting recommendations made by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety in March 2021. Miller admits that there are still cracks in the aged-care system that can’t be fixed by service providers alone – they require more government funding.

“It’s a once-in-a-generation chance to get aged care on the right footing.” – Simon Miller

However, he is positive about the potential for change in the industry, saying, “There’s a great opportunity with the reforms that are coming in in the wake of the Royal Commission – and really it’s a once-in-a-generation chance to get aged care on the right footing.”

For Miller, a key recommendation of the commission is a new, integrated aged-care program that “combines the existing Commonwealth Home Support Program, Home Care Packages Program, and Residential Aged Care Program, including Respite Care and Short-Term Restorative Care.”

“That is exactly the right direction,” says Miller. “So this whole idea that it’s not about where you live; it’s about what you need. And so as you age, it’s about how do you make sure that you get the right services from the right providers at the right time, in the way that you want them as an individual?”

Anglicare operates 23 retirement villages and 25 residential aged-care facilities across Greater Sydney and the Illawarra, as well as home care and other aged-care services (such as respite, dementia and palliative care).

“From Anglicare’s perspective, I want to make sure we have high-quality services that are integrated right across the spectrum of what people need – from home care, to retirement living and aged care … so that when that new government system is in place, Anglicare is ready to serve them,” he says.

Holistic care

Miller’s confidence in creating a big-picture vision for Anglicare comes from his problem-solving experience as a managing director and senior partner at Boston Consulting Group for over 14 years. He has also played senior roles for several government departments and on boards, including for Mission Australia. Early in his career, he was executive officer for the Social Issues Committee of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney.

However, Miller’s vision for integration is not all about the big picture. It’s also about holistic care on an individual level.

“I think that’s something that Anglicare – and for that matter, fellow Christian aged-care providers – offers, which is really important. It’s not just about someone’s physical needs. It’s not just about their emotional needs. It’s about their spiritual needs as well.”

He notes the 120 Anglicare chaplains, many of whom work in their retirement villages and aged-care homes.

“They really are Christ to the people who need it – to residents and to family members. They get alongside them and are someone to talk to. In some cases, they are literally a shoulder to cry on.”

As most Anglicare chaplains are employed by a local church, Miller notes the chaplains also “create a bridge between Anglicare’s communities and the local parish.”

“That’s a beautiful thing,” he concludes.

“We’re about the whole person. And so it’s not just living our faith, but it also creates opportunities for connecting people to Jesus in a way that other organisations don’t. They do great work, but that’s not what they’re focused on.”