News & Events

OCAV looks to the future

February 19, 2016

CEO Phillip Wohlers has overseen some of the most dramatic changes in the almost 150 year history of OCAV. There have been old buildings restored, existing buildings renovated and new buildings added across the four villages.

But there are some things that won’t change under Phillip’s ‘watch’. He is adamant that the personalised model of care that is a cornerstone of OCAV, must remain a priority.

That personalised approach to care across OCAV’s four villages is one of the reasons Phillip took on the CEO’s job 15 years ago. He had served two years as Finance Manager and knew enough about the place to want to lead it into the future. That’s happening now, but it won’t happen at the expense of OCAV’s unique model of living. It’s what makes it different to most other retirement villages.

“I have an accounting background and most of my career, before OCAV, was in an industry where money was the focus. Coming here was chance to focus on people and working to make their lives as fulfilling as possible,” Phillip said.

“Working here is about relationships between staff and residents, and relationships within the community of residents. The way we have established the villages encourages a sense of community – we have no fences. There’s a sense that people have their own privacy, but they are part of a shared community.”
The personalised approach Phillip refers to is the culture of care and supporting people to live fulfilled and happy lives. One important aspect is the daily ‘check-up’ on every resident. It’s not intrusive and might be just a knock and a “hello, are you OK today”, but it means the world to residents and to Phillip.

“When a resident comes into an OCAV village we recognise that they are leaving their home and community and that is very, very hard for some people. We have a buddy system and when they first come to us we touch base with them very regularly to ensure they are settling in,” he said.

One of the biggest challenges facing OCAV is the demand from ageing Victorians wanting to join one of the four communities. The waiting list at Rushall Park in particular is more than six years, with 400 people on the list. Phillip believes OCAV has a social responsibility to try and offer more accommodation as the population ages. To that end some major developments are underway at Leith Park in St Helena where 49 new units are being built and the first stage is expected to be under way later in the year. At Rushall Park 35 new units will be built on land, which runs along the railway station, and construction is likely to start in 2017.

Phillip is confident the expansion of the sites will not threaten the strong sense of community that exists at the villages. In fact, he believes people drawn to the OCAV sites are keen to play a part in the village life. It’s what attracts them in the first place.

This year he wants to increase by 20% the involvement of residents in both physical and social activity. He also wants to increase the number of volunteers across the four villages from 140 to 200 people. A culture of volunteering enhances the lives of residents, often encourages them to volunteer in the wider community and brings the outside world into the village.

Phillip is confident the OCAV model has something to offer the broader sector and he would like to see the organisation’s influence expand within the industry. Something is definitely working with OCAV bucking the trend on some important indicators. The average age of entry to a retirement village is 73 and OCAV’s is 77 years. The average length of stay is 7 years and at OCAV it is 10 years.

The culture also impacts on staff. Staff turnover in the industry is traditionally high. At OCAV the average term of employment is between 10 and 15 years. Phillip is happy to sing the praises of the staff, but just ask the residents and they talk warmly of the staff they encounter each day who treat them with respect and ‘not just like an old person’. The relationships between OCAV staff and residents extend to the Board who are all volunteers and who, at least once each year, join residents for a social gathering to discuss issues relating to life in their village.

As well as current expansion plans OCAV is looking to the future and developing strategies for additional sites elsewhere in Victoria in order to assist more Victorians. There are lots of questions to be answered before any concrete plans are made, including location and land acquisition. But Phillip is hoping that the expansion strategy will be in place by 2020.

“People want to be a part of what we offer here. It’s a good life for everyone – residents and staff. OCAV is a happy, vibrant place to live and work,” Phillip said.

“Our home has always been a place where family and friends are welcome.  Our cottage at Rushall Park is no different and the community of friends here is important to us and that’s why their work is part of my art box,” Jennifer Barden said.

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