News & Events

Karen looks past the wrinkles

October 1, 2018

Karen Ernest wishes more people in the wider community could ‘look past the wrinkles’ that eventually cover our faces. She’s learned a great deal working with ageing Victorians over the years, but that’s probably her greatest lesson.

“I don’t see people as old. I am lucky to work every day with people who are ageing and I get to see a different side of life. Too many people are ignored or sidelined because they are ageing. If people could just look past the wrinkles on someone’s face and treat them for who they are and not how old they are, the world would be a better place,” Karen said.

Karen is the Residents’ Coordinator at OCAV’s Leith Park village at St Helena and Currie Park village in Euroa. She first began with the organisation 22 years ago delivering the residents’ mail and checking each morning that the residents were okay. That’s when her love for the job and the people began.

Eight years ago Karen took over as Residents’ Coordinator and spends her days working with other staff to ensure the residents in both villages have the best possible life and that’s no small order. She has a job description, but every day is different and impossible to predict.

“I will come to work with a plan of what needs to be done and then something will happen, such as a resident having a fall, and everything else gets put on hold while I help the person with whatever is required at the time. That might be seeking medical assistance, contacting family members or just sitting with the person until they feel better,” Karen said.

Karen is the go to person for the residents at St Helena and Currie Park. She interviews everyone who wants to move into the two villages and helps them settle in to their new life. If residents have a problem, she will help them sort it out. Some of the problems are straightforward and some are more challenging, such as supporting a resident and their family members as the person comes to the realisation that he or she can no longer live independently and need to move into care. Some elements of her job break her heart.

“My husband always tells me not to get so attached, but I can’t help it because that’s who I am. I think I am better at my job because I do feel strongly about the residents’ lives and I care when they can no longer cope and have to make hard decisions. And I cry when someone I have known a long time dies. I was sitting with one lady once who was ill and she asked me if she was going to die soon. She was scared and alone and although I was sad, I felt so honoured to be part of her world at such an important moment,” Karen said.

Karen is careful when recruiting staff to work in her area, dealing day to day with residents. She knows people can learn tasks, but having a deep respect, kindness and patience with older people is the most important characteristic anyone can bring to the job and it can’t always be learned.

“Like any job, some of the people I work with can be difficult and it can be challenging, but most of the residents also respect the staff and value our commitment,” she said. “If someone is being difficult or rude it is often because they are in pain or they are struggling with something in their life and you have to take the time to work through that for a good outcome.”

Karen loves working for OCAV and wouldn’t swap her job for anything and she attributes most of her life lessons to the older people she works with each day. She just wishes more people could open their eyes to the wisdom of age and not dismiss older people.

“I think a lot of older people are treated as if they are invisible with nothing to contribute to society. But these people have had jobs, helped build communities, had love affairs and nurtured families. If only people could see past the wrinkles, they could have a great relationship with the older people in our community.”

The apartments are beautiful, with lovely, open and bright rooms, and a balcony for growing plants in pots. I am starting to make my apartment into a home.

– Catherine, Leith Park

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