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Derek and Wendy embrace The WISER Approach

A dementia diagnosis 12 years ago prompted Derek Thompson to rise to the challenges of changing domestic circumstances. But it is not Mr Thompson who was diagnosed with cognitive impairment, it was his wife Wendy. He is one of an ever-growing number of people that have found themselves in the role of primary carer for a loved one, with little prior knowledge of dementia. National Carers Week aims to raise awareness of the role of those that support individuals at home, and the services provided in the aged care and disability sector. Thanks to dementia carer training and peer support in recent years, Mr Thompson has adopted Montessori-based strategies and has shared knowledge of how to adapt to the difficulties he has encountered in managing his wife’s reduced independence. He underwent carer training in The WISER Approach, not-for-profit Omnicare’s holistic initiative that originated as a dementia program. “Initially, you find out what you’re doing is all wrong,” Mr Thompson says, “and you learn more about how to manage people living with dementia. “From there, it’s a very individual thing, because you’re dealing with that one person and you’ve got to understand [what’s going through their mind] – and you don’t pick that up right away.” Mr Thompson cites stress and loneliness as two of the major negative impacts that primary carers of people living with dementia often can face. “There can be mood changes,” he says. “I’ve heard time and time again: ‘The person I’m looking after is not my husband. He’s changed’.” Unpredictable behaviour can take its emotional toll on carers, but Mr Thompson’s training, and listening to the experiences of other carers have taught him how to recognise what is triggering frustration or aggression. Underpinning The WISER Approach is the principle an individual with dementia is the same person and they are not defined by their condition. Omnicare’s WISER team facilitates chat groups that bring together primary carers to discuss their experiences. During the early stages of the pandemic these moved online. The easing of Covid restrictions has allowed carers to meet in person again. “What the chat groups bring is honesty and the sense that others are going through similar experiences,” Mr Thompson says. “We listen and learn, and go home happier and better equipped to care for our loved ones.” National Carers Week runs until Sunday 18 October.

A new home at Lake Cathie

Omnicare establishes Lake Cathie presence Lake Cathie has a new base for older Camden Haven residents keen to maintain social connections. Aged care provider Omnicare has found a new home for its local Social Support Groups (SSG) programs, following the designation of its previous facility at Laurieton as a Covid 19 testing centre. The not-for-profit group switched last week to Lake Cathie Community Centre, where it is now running programs on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Head of Omnicare SSG, Sarah McGarrity, is delighted to have found somewhere to facilitate this important service. “Social support is about fostering participants’ sense of community,” she said. “Our regulars engage with each other and our staff through meaningful and purposeful activities. “It’s important for one’s wellbeing to have that feeling of belonging. “I’m so pleased our Camden Haven clients have that opportunity again to re-connect at this fantastic centre.” Ms McGarrity said she had approached Port Macquarie-Hastings Council about a venue for the group. A council official put her in contact with the Lake Cathie Neighbourhood Centre, which manages the facility on Mulloway Road. “We’ve been made very welcome,” she said. “There’s a lot going on here already, with various activity groups and a community garden in the pipeline. “I’m sure there’ll be opportunities for us to involve clients in many of those, to collaborate in the spirit of community.” Omnicare hosts SSG programs at four other day centres: two at Port Macquarie (Morton and Greenmeadows); Wauchope; and Kempsey (Parklands Cottage). These have re-opened recently, having suspended operations in March following the implementation of government directives for non-residential aged care facilities. As a Covid Safe service provider, Omnicare has established comprehensive infection control measures at each of its sites in the Mid North Coast region. The Camden Haven SSG was housed previously at the Community Health Centre, in Laurieton. For more information on Omnicare’s Montessori-based programs, visit: photo caption

Wauchope Meals Service branch’s turn to switch sites

A short move across Wauchope’s High Street brings exciting opportunities for Omnicare clients. After three decades at the back of an arcade, the organisation’s Hastings – Wauchope Meals Service branch will have a more visible presence at its new home. Omnicare’s multi-purpose facility at Bain Park will house this important community service. The centre is currently in use two days a week by Omnicare’s Social Support Groups (SSG) and regularly for its Disability Services group activities programs. Head of Meals Service Alvena Ferguson said the move had been floated some time ago. “We were waiting for permission from Council [which owns the building] to permit a change of use to part of the centre,” she said. “The branch will have its own dedicated space within the centre for meals storage and administration. “It will be more accessible for clients and volunteers. There’s more room for parking too, which will make the dispatch of deliveries somewhat easier.” Ms Ferguson said the multi-purpose facility heralded a sign of things to come for Omnicare, which has a dozen sites across the Mid-North Coast region – from Forster to Sawtell. “Omnicare provides a wide range of services,” she said. “As we expand across the region, it makes sense to make full use of our premises – particularly the former Meals On Wheels branches.” Head of SSG, Sarah McGarrity, said staff and regulars at the Bain Park centre were looking forward to welcoming new faces. “This week has seen the resumption [following Covid restrictions] of our clients preparing food in the kitchen,” she said. “They’ll be taking hot drink ‘orders’ from the Meals Service staff and serving them at morning tea. “We’ve also got plans to offer clients the opportunity to assist with packing Meals Service products for the volunteers to deliver. “We also hope some of them will be keen to deliver the meals, accompanied by our support workers.” The branch will switch operations to Bain Park on Monday, 21 September. This has involved a two-day suspension of the service to facilitate the move. Clients who normally receive meals during those days received their deliveries last Wednesday instead.

Omnicare Meals Service on the move in Port Macquarie

A pillar of the Port Macquarie community is giving an alternative meaning to the term ‘moveable feast’. A new era has begun for staff and volunteers at Omnicare Meals Service’s Hastings Port Macquarie branch after uprooting to a location in the industrial area. The service is taking up residence at its new home, Unit 10, 35 Merrigal Road, having operated at the Garden Village complex (off Hastings River Drive) since the 1980s. Omnicare’s Head of Meals Service, Alvena Ferguson, said the move had gone well. “It has been a big logistical operation to get us set up at our wonderful new surroundings,” she said. “Our landlord has carried out modifications to the space that allow us to set up the packing and dispatch of meals for hundreds of clients locally, as well as an area for our branch staff to undertake their admin duties. “We’ve enjoyed a great relationship with Garden Village. Their kitchens continue to supply us with meals for our clients in the area.” Senior Branch Officer Tamara King said the service had been disrupted for only two days to accommodate the move. “We did extra deliveries before and after the move, so none of our clients missed out on their meals,” she said. “The new premises are great, there’s plenty of space. The facilities work well for us. “Our volunteers have been very accommodating and patient, as usual. They’ve also adapted very well to our pandemic measures.” In March, Omnicare Meals Service began operating contactless delivery, rather than entering homes. Volunteers and staff have been checking on clients’ wellbeing by phone and ensuring they collect their meals within minutes of the drop-offs. More recently, as health authorities’ guidelines eased, there has been a resumption of entering homes – on request. Omnicare has mandated the wearing of masks for volunteers coming into contact with clients. As a registered Covid Safe Business, all Omnicare staff and volunteers have been completing online training in coronavirus infection control. A grant from Essential Energy, has helped fund this mandatory training.

Volunteers take the biscuits as Omnicare gives thanks

The contributions of community-minded supporters have prompted Omnicare Alliance to show gratitude - with baked treats. To mark National Volunteer Week 2020, the not-for-profit service provider has been thanking its unpaid helpers for their efforts to support vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals in the Mid North Coast region, including its Kempsey Macleay Meals Service clients. Around 600 volunteers commit free time regularly to undertake such tasks as preparing, packing or delivering meals; assisting with administration; helping to run group activities and excursions; and even doing odd jobs at many of Omnicare’s various sites. Staff at its Meals Service kitchens baked biscuits as tokens of thanks. These were handed out with certificates of appreciation. Head of Meals Service, Alvena Ferguson, paid tribute to the volunteers that show up to help out at seven branches between Sawtell and Forster. “I can’t speak highly enough of them all,” she said. “They’re the lifeblood of our operations. “They come from all walks of life, and what they all have in common is a strong sense of community, care and compassion. “Volunteers play a vital role in helping many of our 1000 or so clients to maintain connected to their communities. For some clients, it’s the only social interaction they have each week.” Omnicare Meals Service – a member of Meals on Wheels NSW – delivers around 2800 meals a week. The pandemic has caused a fluctuation in Omnicare volunteer numbers. Federal Government guidelines resulted in many aged 70 years and over choosing to self-isolate. Others with health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19 chose also to remain at home. There have also been some over 80 years ‘retiring’ after decades of service. “There was a decrease of about a quarter of our volunteers when restrictions came in,” Ms Ferguson said. “Our support workers have filled many of the gaps. “But we’ve welcomed new volunteers. It’s been wonderful to see younger people among them. Our elderly clients have really enjoyed that. “We’ve started to see a lot of volunteers returning now.” Former pathology scientist Graeme Rose is a recent recruit. Prior to pandemic restrictions he was heavily involved in his local Family History Society. “I was looking to spend my spare time usefully,” he said. “Two hours a day, twice a week seemed attractive. “After working at the hospital, I worked for a solar panel company, which brought me into contact with a lot of elderly people that had little contact with others. “Delivering meals gives clients an opportunity to have contact, so it’s been very rewarding to volunteer.” Omnicare Meals Serviceencourages anyone interested in volunteering to call Alvena Ferguson on 0401 608 240, or email To enquire about volunteering roles elsewhere in the organisation visit:

Social isolation prompts Omnicare to adapt quickly

Redeployment, technology and new procedures have played a key role in supporting vulnerable people in the Mid-North Coast region. Hastings-based Omnicare Alliance has met head-on the challenge of delivering services under pandemic restrictions. The not-for-profit aged and disability support service provider has faced disruption to its overall operational capacity, while also managing significantly increased demand in one area. General Manager of Operations, Penny Poulton, said the organisation’s senior management was responding well to changing circumstances. “Omnicare Meals Service [affiliated to Meals on Wheels NSW] has experienced a net increase of about 8 per cent in clients since the end of February,” she said. “We’ve had to implement major changes to the way we operate that service. For example, our seven branches have had to limit access to their premises. “Many volunteers – particularly those over 70 years old – have been self-isolating, so we’ve brought in other Omnicare staff to assist with food packing and non-contact deliveries. “We’re still conducting wellbeing checks on clients, so we check firstly that the meals are being picked up before the person delivering them leaves. Secondly, our staff are calling clients to touch base and to offer assistance where we can.” Over the past four weeks, staff have called every Omnicare client (or carer) to check how they are coping. Many of these have prompted follow-up calls to provide information, advice or support beyond regular services. “This situation is reminding everyone in society of the importance of connection and community,” Ms Poulton said. “Omnicare is always aware of, and focused on, social connection – not just for clients, but also those that care for them at home. “We’ve made around 1,000 calls in four weeks. Often, just saying hello and asking how people are, goes a long way to making them feel part of their community. Mostly, it’s a 10-minute chat. For some though, there might be a subsequent call to help them address an issue or sort out a problem. “We’ll keep making regular calls as the pandemic continues.” With Omnicare’s five Social Support day centres closed and group outings suspended – both due to physical distancing – there are limited opportunities for clients to engage with others face to face. However, that’s where technology is playing a vital role. Last week, an NDIS client enjoyed Omnicare’s first ‘virtual support session’. Disability support worker Trent Corby used Skype to connect and engage with Jayden Davies. Activity packs for people living with dementia have been complemented by an online chat group for their carers, with Omnicare staff available for advice and strategies to manage the challenges of social isolation. The federal government has deemed personal care of the elderly an ‘essential service’, which often entails close contact - this was a welcome exemption to physical distancing guidelines, Ms Poulton said. The organisation has developed a ‘screening tool’ for staff – an infection control checklist to be completed before entering each client’s home. It is also supplying home care support workers with personal protective equipment, including disposable gloves, aprons, hand sanitiser and facemasks (for use only when the client requests it). Omnicare Home Modifications and Maintenance Service is undertaking work on a case-by-case basis, with a similar level of infection control measures in place.

Omnicare increases support in face of social isolation

Mid North Coast-based Omnicare is adjusting to pandemic containment measures while providing practical support to many vulnerable households. Government restrictions on close contact have prompted the not-for-profit organisation to prioritise ‘essential services’. Omnicare has maintained its Meals Service and one-to-one support for aged clients and those with a disability. Its Home Modifications and Maintenance Service continues to undertake jobs within current COVID-19 guidelines. CEO Iggy Pintado said the organisation was operating as fully as circumstances would allow, but was also going beyond regular services. “First and foremost, we’re delivering services to those clients that rely on us most,” he said. “This means our support workers continue to meet the needs of aged and disabled clients living in their own homes. “It also means our staff and volunteers are ensuring there are no interruptions to the hundreds of meals we deliver to clients’ homes each week. “Our staff are finding other ways to support clients and carers. We’re calling every client household to check on their wellbeing. We’re developing ‘carer kits’ with activity ideas and resources to help counteract the increased social isolation. “I’m really proud of how our people are reaching out to offer whatever relief we can provide.” Omnicare has had to suspend operations at its Social Support Centres, where clients maintain community connections and engage in purposeful activities programs. It has also suspended group outings. The other two areas of focus are on maintaining employment and restricting non-essential expenditure. Omnicare employs around 150 staff from Forster to Sawtell. “We’re doing all we can to keep people employed for as long as possible,” Mr Pintado said. “Many are unable to carry out their regular responsibilities, but we’re looking to redeploy as many as we can to other areas of the organisation where they’re needed. “Where possible also, we’ve encouraged staff to work from home. “The pandemic situation is changing almost by the hour, and that’s creating uncertainty for everyone in society. “All Omnicare can do is put plans in place for how we anticipate circumstances might develop and respond appropriately and swiftly when circumstances change.” Meals wheels keep on turning A cohort of volunteers is helping maintain regular deliveries of meals to hundreds of households weekly in the Mid North Coast region. Omnicare Meals Service has adapted to changes in its operations, brought on by the pandemic emergency. Meals Service manager Alvena Ferguson said its branches at Forster, Taree, Laurieton, Port Macquarie, Wauchope, Kempsey and Sawtell had been working to full capacity in recent weeks. “We’re getting meals delivered, as we always do,” she said, “but we’re under the pump alright. “How we deliver the meals has changed for the vast majority of clients. For around 80 per cent of them, we’re leaving the meals outside their front doors – in receptacles they provide for us. The volunteer waits to make sure the meals are brought indoors, otherwise they’re returned to the branch and a new arrangement made. “For the remainder who wish to continue having someone enter their homes, we’ve implemented our own measures to maintain social distancing and infection control. “There are some clients whose only regular contact with their community are through the volunteer who calls to their door with their meals. They’re socially isolated as a way of life.” A few volunteers have dropped off the delivery roster, during the coronavirus clampdown. Omnicare is filling any gaps by redeploying staff from elsewhere in the organisation to its Meals Service branches. There have been more enquiries from potential clients, Ms Ferguson said, and she anticipated this would increase further as the pandemic situation developed. Clients will find a welcome addition to their meals. Omnicare Meals Service has itself taken delivery of what is becoming a precious household commodity. A supermarket chain has furnished Meals On Wheels NSW with toilet rolls to distribute among clients. As an affiliate of the state body, Omnicare’s operation has received its allocation.