by Kate O’Mara

Innovation in aged care is critically important, particularly given the recent focus on the sector. The Hunter’s Maroba Aged Care, under the stewardship of its CEO Viv Allanson OAM, is keenly focused on staying at the cutting edge of resident care. It’s working hard to provide residents with not only a caring, comfortable home, but holistic, effective services that improve their quality of life and support their independence.

A familiar face in the Hunter, Maroba has been caring for our region’s families since 1954 and during a recent visit I discovered that its residents are its heart. So important is their care that Maroba directs significant effort to considered, resident-centric innovation and the exploration and implementation of new ideas in aged care. Additionally, and encouragingly, it’s also dedicated to providing a nurturing environment for the region’s aged care workforce of the future.

Following Maroba’s entry into RDA Hunter’s Health & Medtech Industry Cluster (HMIC) in early 2023, Viv invited me to learn more about the Facility, its ethos and services – and its speech pathology program in particular. Having become more aware of the region’s health and medtech landscape since the inception of HMIC in 2020, I was keen to get an insider’s look at a segment of Health we hadn’t yet explored, and the unique programs Maroba has developed.

So, to Maroba I went and happily joined a fun Jeopardy-style question and answer activity underway in the Facility’s very comfortable Great Hall. The session was managed by a small team of efficient, well-prepared and enthusiastic Maroba staff …. or so it seemed. In actuality the team comprised two efficient, well prepared and enthusiastic University of Newcastle speech pathology students mid-way through their six week work integrated learning placement, plus their supervisor, Maroba-based University of Newcastle Clinical Educator, Kristen Munro.
Speech Pathology Students Contribute to Care

Interestingly, and key to its success, this student-led speech pathology program is integrated into Maroba’s resident care plan and has been for the past 12 years. Embarked upon as a pilot between Maroba and the University of Newcastle in 2012, the program initially aimed to help Speech Pathology undergraduate students complete their third-year requirement for work placement. Six months into the pilot, Viv and Kristen agreed that the cost-neutral program was mutually beneficial: participating students enjoyed it, engaged in genuine care activities and as a result learnt a lot whilst on-the-job at Maroba. Maroba’s residents embraced the student-developed activities and showed (often significant) signs of improvement after participating in them.

Fast forward 12 years and the program is a mainstay of Maroba’s clinical service offering. Honed in partnership with the organisation’s multi-disciplinary teams and tailored for individual residents’ needs, it’s delivering clear and trackable improvements in resident health, and it’s preventing illness.

According to Viv, the agile program is making a genuine difference, “Our long-standing partnership with the University of Newcastle is extremely successful and we’re very proud of it. It’s innovative and effective and it gives our residents a service they wouldn’t normally have access to. Speech pathology is not something aged care has the budget to offer beyond basic assessments, so being able to work with the University to create and implement a bespoke and impactful program like this one is something really special,” she said.

Kristen added, “Our co-designed program provides a perfect learning model for students. It gives them an opportunity to test their knowledge and apply their technical skills by being in a real situation. Often times they’re nervous about the experience but they quickly learn to prepare well and trust their knowledge: important real-world skills.”

Viv continued, “Students add a lot of value to the Maroba team and we really enjoy having them around – their approach is refreshing and innovative and often challenges us to aim higher. We want to give them a ‘wow’ experience and facilitate genuine immersive experiences that show them the joy and rewards of working with older people. Our sincere hope is that they choose a career in aged care.”
And how do the students feel, does this experience, in fact, influence their career choices? Yes, it seems that it does.

Georgia and Faye were loving their time at Maroba and both will be ‘sad to have to leave’.

According to Georgia, she is 100% more passionate about speech pathology than she was before work placement and really keen to work with the elderly. “Maroba is giving us such a positive experience of aged care. It’s really changed my thinking about my career. I had always anticipated that I’d be working with children but spending time here and being shown respect by the staff and residents has opened my eyes to a whole new aspect of speech pathology that I hadn’t considered. I’ve loved it.”

Faye is an international student, studying her undergraduate degree in Newcastle. She’ll return to Fiji at its conclusion and has found the hands-on Maroba experience really valuable for her future, “My work placement has really improved my self-confidence and helped me believe in the skills I’ve learnt at University. I’ve applied my theoretical knowledge and I’ve had the chance to improve my communication, planning and teamwork skills as well. I’m excited to go home to Fiji at the end of my studies and contribute my skills and knowledge in my community.”

Maroba continues to be an early adopter and innovative leader in aged care, with a willingness to partner with like-minded people and organisations.

HMIC is the Hunter Central Coast’s Health & Medtech Industry Cluster. Established and managed by Regional Development Australia (RDA) Hunter, HMIC is industry-led and working to identify and address industry and Health challenges locally. It comprises a broad range of the region’s medtech and allied health companies, national industry associations, Health and manufacturing specialists, and education & research organisations.

Maroba was established in 1954 and provides services to the elderly in the Newcastle and Hunter region. It provides a safe, relaxed and welcoming environment for residents, clients and visitors. Its team of dedicated professionals offers individualised care that is focused on helping residents stay healthy and happy. While its traditional services such as residential aged care and retirement accommodation remain its focus, Maroba has introduced a range of wellness and support services that are structured to support the older person. This program known as Community Services is also open to the community and includes exercise classes, gym programs and luncheons. The programs offer a healthy approach to ageing by aiming to improve participant’s quality of life, and by supporting them to be more independent.