David Maher is a quietly spoken, thoughtful leader; more low-key than flashy, more practical than impossible. That’s not to say the Managing Director of Catholic Healthcare doesn’t harbour ambition. Indeed, he’s entirely focused on the future. It’s just that his goals centre more around the people he cares for, rather than any personal agenda – a fact made evident when asked about his bucket list.

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“I want to give back to our elderly. They built this society we live in, yet many people in aged care do not receive a visitor,” David explains. “I want to ensure that they get all the love and support they deserve.”

The not-for-profit, independent Catholic Healthcare operates 10 retirement villages in New South Wales and 40 aged-care homes throughout New South Wales and south-east Queensland, with a number of those specifically designed to cater to those people at risk of becoming homeless.

Catholic Healthcare also delivers in-home and community services such as health and wellbeing programs, personal care, light housework, gardening services and dementia support, and specialised programs focused on supporting clients experiencing hoarding and squalor.

While the average age of Catholic Healthcare clients in aged care is 80, anyone can access services from the age of 65, and with Australia’s aged population increasing, the organisation is growing fast. From the end of this year, a new aged care home will open every four to six months, doubling Catholic Healthcare’s A$1 billion investment over the next decade. David stresses that it’s a case of growth to meet need, rather than growth for growth’s sake.

“That’s what we’re about: building the aged care of tomorrow one day at a time,” he explains. “Our promise is to enrich lives so every client can experience the best life possible during their life’s journey, whether they are 65 and completely active, or in the later stages of palliative care. We’re reviewing and changing things quite a lot so we can support the care desires and decisions of each individual.”

“That’s what we’re about: building the aged care of tomorrow one day at a time.”

Over the past couple of years, Catholic Healthcare has collaborated with Australia’s largest retirement living provider, Lendlease, to provide residential care homes, amenities and homecare services across Lendlease villages. It’s an integrated service that provides aged-care services for people who need it and means clients can retire knowing they can transition into aged care and be looked after.

“We build residential aged care homes in Lendlease retirement villages with about six sites in New South Wales and three in Victoria. We also offer aged-care services to the surrounding community.”

David began his career as a management consultant with Price Waterhouse before moving across to health care, working for various organisations in Australia and the UK before joining Catholic Healthcare 18 years ago to head up the hospitals in the group. At the same time, the organisation was becoming aware of the desperate need for more aged-care services and by 2011, when David was appointed Managing Director, aged care was the primary focus.

David says the fundamental tenet of the organisation is that everyone is welcome, no matter what their beliefs, with staff being no exception. He believes the crucial key to Catholic Healthcare’s holistic care is the commitment of its 4,000 employees, supported by 1,000 volunteers, but admits that finding the right people to work in the industry is an ongoing struggle.

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“There is a large and growing need for caregivers to support our elderly, but it’s an industry that needs people who are not only capable, but also care deeply for older Australians. We need to innovate in the way we retain and attract people. I revere our frontline staff for the care and dedication they provide. They’re clever, passionate people and they are what really drives me. But we need to offer more support, education and training so they continue to be good caregivers and they see it as a worthwhile career path.”

David says operating within the paradigms of aged care can also be a challenge, forcing him to rely heavily on solid partnerships to ensure services run smoothly, such as Facilities First. For many years, Catholic Healthcare has enjoyed a strong relationship with the company, an organisation David trusts implicitly to use cleaning specialists to ensure high standards are met.

“My biggest challenge is finding solutions to do more, to enrich the lives of our clients using the resources we have. How we can do things differently to add to the life experience of the people we are caring for. So building a partnership based on loyalty and trust is important.”

David says the contribution from volunteers visiting and caring for lonely clients is also vital. Expanding on the concept of bringing the outside world in, he’s drawing on local communities to brighten up the days of clients, particularly those who may not have family support.

“We have one home where we have a cafe and a branch of the local library used by the general community. The cafe overlooks a park that has a children’s play area, so our residents can go there and join in, or if they can’t get out they can see it all happening from their window.”

David is a current Councillor on the Aged and Community Services Association of NSW, a member of the Aged Care Advisory Committee into Residential Aged Care Funding, and a member of the Australian College of Health Service Executives.

As the father of three teenagers, weekends are usually taken up with family time, including his own indulgence of playing soccer every week during winter. It’s yet another way David leads by example, preferring to ‘show’ the way rather than ‘talk too much’.

He also subscribes heavily to the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) principle, admitting that while enriching the lives of the elderly can be complex, it requires a straightforward perspective; you just have to care from the heart.

“It’s very much a people business. We are striving to ensure people in our care live with dignity and find personal fulfilment in their lives as they age,” he reflects. “It’s also a social endeavour. We’re honouring the contribution our elderly have made to society, by caring for them. That’s what keeps me here.”

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Facilities First Aus