Voice of experience: Michael, Uniting Mirinjani

Michael, the Deputy Service Manager at Uniting Mirinjani, shares with us how good design can greatly improve the experience of residential aged care for both residents and workers. Hear from Michael about how the changes in design at Uniting Mirinjani is making a big difference.


My name is Michael. I'm the deputy service manager across Mirinjani, based day to day at Mirinjani Hostel. I literally started working in aged care on my 20th birthday. So, without aging myself I've got 19 years’ experience in the industry. I've started off as a carer, a personal care worker, and I've worked my way up through a number of different roles over the years.

The design of Mirinjani is we've got three closely located, separate aged care services. We’ve got 204 beds in total, and we've been working under the household model and we have been since about 2015, I believe. With these being longstanding buildings, parts of them have had to be retrospectively fitted to accommodate the household model. And I suppose the household model is the idea of breaking down larger services into smaller communities. In each of those communities we try to have no more than 20 people. It's to create and to replicate people's lives and people's lives at home and to have the smaller community and to make people feel, I suppose, more autonomous and less institutionalised, to have more say in their own lives and what matters to them and also for the staff to be able to better know their needs and preferences and provide person centred care.

The design of Mirinjani and the way that it's broken up into households, it benefits residents because they're self-contained, they're self-sufficient little areas and everything that they need to live their lives is in that little area. So, they've got free access to kitchens, to fridges, to laundries, to washing machines. These days, they're better able to live their lives to how they would choose to live their lives at home. Which means, you know, they can get up, they can make themselves a bit of toast, they can make themselves a cuppa in the morning and it's just things like that people take for granted that people weren't able to do in aged care before. So, it's just about, autonomy and consumer choice, I think.

Whilst they are living in communities, they actually do have free rein around the entire service. They've got free access to outside areas we have a, playground where families can come and visit with their children. We have barbecue areas outside. We have a carpet bowls or an artificial lawn bowling mat at the back, which gets used from time to time. It’s their home and they have free rein and they can come and go as they please.

With each community comes their own kitchenette, their own dining room, and back in the day, you used to have to get everyone down to large communal areas for meals and things like that. It's very different these days and it makes a better standard of service when people live in small communities and they just have more choice, they have more autonomy.

For residents living with dementia good design is really important. I think its consistency and routine is really important to people living with dementia and also a sense of safety, and when they're familiar with their environments and they don't get overwhelmed by having to go to large dining areas or anything with 100 people in them, it provides that sense of safety. When they have that sense of safety, it also means they feel safer, you can build better rapport and you can provide better care.

The design aspects of the rooms that assist people with dementia, I suppose these days we try and make their rooms, their homes as well. So obviously we do need to be mindful of things like WHS and to make sure the rooms aren't too cluttered and you have enough room to manoeuvre mobility equipment or what you need around safely to do your job. But we do encourage people to bring in their own bits and pieces from home, their own pictures, they might have a special dresser that they really like that makes them feel at home as well, and that's encouraged these days. The wall hangings, any decor is entirely up to the residents.

Space is a big thing; you know you need to have enough room for the staff around to get around and hand out meals and everything. And also, being household model, some residents during their lunch will want to get up and make their own cup of tea and everything too. So, you need to make sure that there's room for everyone to move around.

When I started in the industry 20 years ago, there was no there was no kitchenettes or anything, anywhere. There’d be a main kitchen which was closed off to residents and there'd be a communal dining room and they'd come down for meals. And these days with the kitchenettes, they have free rein and they can go and make themselves a cuppa and simple things like going to the fridge and getting yourself a drink of juice is something that we take for granted that really makes an improvement to people's lives.

It improves staff environment by, I suppose, as simple as happy residents and staff knowing that they've made a difference to that person's life for that day. It's quite a home like environment here. I think it's got a real sense of community here and I think the design allows us to do that because they are living in smaller quarters, they get to know their other people in those communities a lot better and it helps form better friendships and bonds.

So, some of the great design features here that we've recently implemented at Mirinjani include so, sound deadening or sound absorbing panels in communal areas as it can be, the noise pollution can be quite triggering for some people living with dementia. We've also got rid of all fluorescent lighting in the dining rooms and like to have soft lighting. The way Mirinjani's design benefits staff, because in the household model we actually try and keep consistent staff working in the same households as much as we can.

With the consistent workforce, the staff really, really, really get to know the residents, their preferences, their wants, their needs, and getting to know them better, better enables the staff to meet their needs and provide that person centred care.

The reason I work in aged care is that I really find it quite satisfying. I feel like day to day we can really make a difference to these people's lives and their quality of their lives and I find it satisfying and I suppose it's as simple as that.

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