Clubs and aged care a perfect match

  • Date:01 May 2014
  • Type:Company Director Magazine
Kimberley Talbot explains to Zilla Efrat why it makes perfect sense for registered clubs to get involved in looking after elderly people.


A McKell Institute report, released last month, has again stimulated public debate about the role of clubs in delivering infrastructure and social services to communities – an issue that has been close to Kimberley Talbot’s heart for almost as long as she can remember.

“The report argues that clubs should be giving back their profits to their communities,” she says.

Talbot has spent the past 34 years in the club industry, starting from when she was 17 and spanning five registered clubs across NSW.

Her beliefs about the role of clubs has constantly evolved, but her passion for giving has early roots.

As a child growing up in the NSW mining town of Broken Hill, Talbot’s family suffered a terrible setback after her father was badly injured in a car accident, leaving her mother as the sole provider. The young Talbot was sent to boarding school in Adelaide.

However, she says: “One of the greatest influences in my life was my school’s emphasis and value on volunteering in the local community, helping in aged-care facilities and working with people with a disability. This gave me a strong sense of community and a desire to contribute and participate very early in my career.”

After completing school, Talbot returned to Broken Hill for a gap year and to be with her dying father. To pay the bills, she found an administration job at the Broken Hill Musician’s Club.

In time, she became assistant secretary manager of the Legion Club and later took up the same role at the Broken Hill Social Democratic Club. It was here that she began working with the community on a number of local initiatives.

At the same time, she also volunteered and raised funds for the Challenge Foundation of NSW, a disability services and support organisation.

“For many years, Broken Hill thrived on its mining industry,” she recalls. “But when BHP exited in the 1980s, the town needed to reinvent itself in order to survive.

“Working in this climate and experiencing first-hand the need for change at such a fundamental level inspired me down the track to embrace diversification and to think outside the box when it came to connecting registered clubs with the community.

“Eventually Broken Hill rebuilt itself on the back of a unique tourist market. But the lessons learnt can also apply to clubs and aged care.” 

In 1999, Talbot was headhunted to become gaming and marketing manager at Richmond Ex-Servicemen’s Club, northwest of Sydney.

The following year, she became a director of the Richmond Community and RSL Nursing Home, because of her interest in disability and aged care. She explains: “My grandmother had dementia and I moved to Western Sydney with her and  my mother, so that my grandmother could gain greater access to support services. I also have a cousin with a severe disability. With this appointment as director, I began to understand that the synergy between clubs and aged care was not only a perfect fit, but also had massive potential for creating an inclusive community for the elderly.”

In 2005, Richmond Club came to the rescue of the Richmond Community and RSL Nursing Home which had been struggling with increasing costs and trading at a loss.

The two merged and Talbot was appointed group CEO of the new entity, called Hawkesbury Living, and has held that position since.

Many clubs offer a range of services to older people and a few have moved into building over 55s retirement living accommodation, but the merger put Richmond Club at the forefront of residential aged care support.

Indeed, it is the only registered club in Australia that has invested in and delivers a continuum of care. This starts with the activities and social inclusion that most clubs already offer members and the wider community. It then moves on to independent living in its retirement village (so people can “age in place”) and then to residential aged care and later to nursing care – all in the same place and close to the social facilities members have long used.

After the merger, the club applied for more licences and began renovating the facilities. It also spent around $6 million on major extensions and is about to embark on another $8 million expansion. And, it built the Hawkesbury’s first dementia specific ward as well as 10 bed memory care suites.

“Our facilities are now licensed for 130 beds, which is bigger than the local hospital,” says Talbot.

The club, which today enjoys an annual revenue of around $50 million (gaming included), has plans for the first oncology and chemotherapy unit in the Hawkesbury.

It has also created a partnership with the University of Western Sydney and several private companies to fund the training and qualification of new nurses. And, it is keenly focused on providing employment to older workers.

The merger journey was full of challenges, learnings, milestones and accomplishments, but Talbot says it also confirmed the role that registered clubs could play in helping Australia deal with an ageing population that is living longer and a ticking time bomb with many baby boomers about to retire.    

This is particularly true for regional Australia, where many areas have a critical shortage of facilities to meet their ageing population’s needs. A recent Productivity Commission report also points out that the population in rural areas (including small towns) is ageing more rapidly than the population in major urban and regional centres.

“Up until very recently, we were the only aged care provider prepared to invest in additional licenses to accommodate the growing requirements of the elderly and palliative residents of the Hawkesbury community,” says Talbot. “A new player has only just started operating.”

It makes good sense for clubs to be involved in aged care. Research shows that a large proportion of people aged 55 and over are club members. Indeed, up to 70 per cent of NSW residents over the age of 55 are members of at least one club. Studies also reveal that older people value the community connections gained through their clubs.

For their part, many clubs have close links to seniors groups in their local areas and serve as meeting places for a range of activities.

Clubs also hold events specifically catering to the needs of older members and those with fitness centres increasingly host classes to meet their physical needs.

“Many seniors and older Australians place a lot of trust in registered clubs due to their roots in the RSL and ex-servicemen movements,” says Talbot. “The position as a trusted social institution allows for the diversification of clubs into aged care to be a natural progression of services.”

Clubs are also well placed to leverage their existing assets to provide a “one stop shop” approach to aged care services along the continuum of need.

These assets include existing infrastructure and facilities; shared service functions; qualified staff; a strong reputation and brand in the market place; and robust community networks and relationships.

Plus, clubs are experts in hospitality and as Talbot notes: “Nursing home care is more about hospitality than it is about nursing care.”

After extensive research into facilities worldwide, Talbot has embraced the Humanitas philosophy from Denmark for nursing care, coupled with the Age Song model for dementia residents.

The Humanitas philosophy supports the concept of “apartments for life”, a form of accommodation that allows older people to stay living in their own homes, no matter what level of care they require. Many Danish apartment complexes offer bars and restaurants, internet cafes and remembrance museums. But most importantly, they offer autonomy.

“The Humanitas philosophy has shifted our focus away from the clinical ‘hospital’ feel of aged care to a more person-centric, inclusive approach of holistic care and overall happiness,” says Talbot.

“It’s about fun, laughter, Bingo, food and obviously alcohol and responsible gaming. Residents have been able to drink alcohol all their lives and should be able to drink in their aged-cared facility in moderation. 

“The Humanitas philosophy actually advocates a happy hour at 5 o’clock and its philosophy of personal-centred care is to get residents together socially for a drink, which is far better than giving out medications, especially if not needed.”

Denmark has led the world with “ageing in place” and keeping people at home longer, which, according to Talbot, is also what the Australian government is trying to do.

But she notes that the Danish are now finding that this can often lead to depression, social isolation and disconnection to the community. There are also higher levels of suicide among Danish men.

That is why Richmond Club’s focus is on bringing people together. For those not living in its facilities, it also offers transport services from their homes to all kinds of facilities, not just the club.

“Transport in the Hawkesbury region is not ideal,” says Talbot. “If it wasn’t for the club’s three buses picking people up and taking them to shows or elsewhere, they would not be able to get there. It’s about getting people out and about in the community.”

Talbot, who is chairman of the Hawkesbury Liquor Accord, is the first female CEO of a large registered club in NSW as well as the first female director of the RSL and Services Clubs Association.

She says being a woman at her level in an industry with male-dominated boards, given its core veteran’s stakeholder constituency, was challenging for a long time.

“My biggest challenges involved breaking the barrier of the ‘boy’s club’ and being in the industry for 34 years, I have the right to say that.

“I have proven that I am innovative, collaborative and have a true passion for the community which allows me to be seen in my own right as group CEO of a large registered club. I would have to challenge any woman in a position like mine if she stated that she has never experienced any glass ceilings.”

However, she adds: “My passion, drive and belief in the work of the industry is now widely acknowledged and respected. Today I am in a position that allows me to be paid fairly and comparatively to men in similar roles in the industry, which I believe is testament to the hard work and dedication that I put into my role.”

Her recommendation to other women in similar positions is: Be true to yourself and do business with heart. Treat people as you want to be treated and be passionate!

Talbot attributes her “outstanding” working relationship with Richmond Club’s board to honesty and taking responsibility. “I always have the group’s best interests at heart and I know that my board does also. So, from my experience, if you do not have an honest, open relationship you cannot be an effective CEO, director or person.”

She says while her board has no female directors, it has a good mix of skills and experience and is highly effective. “One of the challenges for the club industry is to make its boards more effective and to attract a better calibre of director.  Whenever a club goes under, you can generally look at the board or manager and you will see there just wasn’t the right mix of people to make it effective.”

She adds: “My biggest lesson in the boardroom was also my biggest accomplishment – sticking strictly to the principles of good corporate governance even in the face of potentially losing my job. It ended a chairman’s term and ultimately made both the board and myself stronger in the long-term.”

Talbot lists the club industry’s greatest challenges as being open to change, developing a greater sense of professionalism among its boards and management (especially in regional areas), being relevant in an extremely competitive market and stabilising the operating environment.

“The club industry has been going through turbulent times of late, with an increase in regulations and legislation changing the way we do business,” she says.

“With limits on the amount of gaming machines allowed in each club, operational restrictions on the sale of alcohol and a tightening of smoking laws, the performance of clubs state-wide has been affected.

“As an industry, we face intense competition from other licensed venues, particularly hotels, pubs and casinos, which all offer similar facilities and services, and online gambling services, which have taken a significant share of club’s traditional markets.”

As a result of these factors, Talbot says the industry’s revenue is projected to decline at an average rate of 0.5 per cent over the next five years.

“This, coupled with the political pressure in regard to a mandatory pre-commitment scheme for gaming machines, has left the industry in a tense position,” says Talbot.

“It is crucial that we prove to the government and the community that what we are doing in terms of responsible gambling is not just lip service. Our club was the first to have voluntary pre-commitment technology. Furthermore, with the cost of living for families rising, the amount of discretionary spending is decreasing, meaning that clubs have to think of new and innovative ways to encourage their members to use their facilities.”

Talbot names Arthur Koumoukelis, a partner at Gadens lawyers in Sydney and a leading expert in aged care, as the person who has had the greatest influence on her life and thinking.

“He’d never been inside a club or casino and did not believe clubs should get involved in aged care,” she says.

“But I twisted his arm to come out to the club one day and convinced him that the model works for all the right reasons. After spending time with the industry and developing an understanding for what we do in the community, I was able to win him over in appreciating our goals and objectives.

“He’s one of the smartest people I have ever met in my life and he motivates me every time I pick up the phone. He challenges me all the time and I challenge him in a different way.”

As for her hobbies and interests outside of work, Talbot says: “I strongly value life and living it to the fullest. After nearly losing my son in a random assault, hobbies are not as high a priority to me. What is most important is family, life balance and enjoying the love of my life.”

And, where does she see herself in 10 years’ time?

“I know I should say continuing to climb the corporate ladder,” she says.

“However, I am driven by policy change for communities and collaboration with state and federal governments to achieve great outcomes for local communities.  I feel I am achieving a lot here at the moment and making strong progress in this field within the Hawkesbury, so perhaps state or federal politics may be an avenue that I pursue.”

As vice chairman of Hills, Hawkesbury and Riverlands Tourism and as part of her drive to boost the role of clubs in the community and in aged care, Talbot already has much experience in working with state and federal governments.

Besides, it almost seems as if she has a bigger mission in life. “You know, sometimes you feel like you have been put here for a reason,” she says about her passion for helping the community.