Vanessa Gawith spent more than two decades working in interstate hotel operations before joining Palm Lake Care at the start of 2018 and, while it might not be obvious from the outset, Vanessa sees many parallels between running hotels and the aged caring community that she now heads. On a day-to-day basis, as Service Manager, Vanessa oversees the smooth running of housekeeping, laundry, catering services and building maintenance, for example, while ensuring her team’s customer service standard across all departments remains as high as possible. Those aspects are the same across both accommodation types. However, Vanessa says there is one major difference and a “massive bonus” between her previous years in hotels compared to her new role in aged care – and that’s the people.
“In hotels, we’d be checking in and checking out 130 different people every day but here, because I see the same faces, I get to build some great relationships and friendships with the residents,” Vanessa says. “For me, these friendships are a massive bonus.”
Vanessa says it’s those resident relationships (and the relationships that she has formed with each resident’s family members) that feed her sense of joy and provide her with workplace reward. To her credit, Vanessa is quite the hands-on manager.
You’ll see her engaged in conversation with residents at most breakfast and lunch times because she knows that these meals are important social outlets for her residents. She also knows that keeping in close contact with the residents at ‘front of house’ (to hear firsthand their feedback) ensures she’s on top of any emerging issues with her ‘back of house’ systems. And you’ll also see Vanessa at work on some weekend shifts as she also makes it a priority to stay in touch with those families who tend to visit their loved ones at the end of the working week.
Overseeing 160-odd staff, and with 150-odd residents’ care in her hands (as well as a further two or three engaged family members for each and every resident), Vanessa’s role can be quite the juggling act. On top of her sizeable ‘team’, there’s also a host of aged care quality standards to uphold and strict legislation to adhere to. While the legislative paperwork would bog anybody down, Vanessa sees it as a positive opportunity for learning.
“In an industry going through so much change, I’m constantly learning – there are so many opportunities for growth,” she says.
There’s no doubting Vanessa’s role as Service Manager takes great people skills, organisational nous, work ethic and a pretty switched-on business mind. But there’s also another key requirement for a role like Vanessa’s – and that’s a little sprinkling of social fun. On top of her aged caring community’s vast and varied weekly activities schedule, Vanessa’s lifestyle team is regularly organising special events for the residents and families. Among Vanessa’s most memorable days in her role were the last Christmas party that saw 276 guests each served a three-course meal (an epic organisational feat in anyone’s book!), and the recent night-time opera and musical shows offering a different style of community connection for her residents.
“Working in aged care is great,” Vanessa says. “It’s rewarding to be able to give something back to our community. It’s actually a real privilege to be welcomed into our residents’ homes every day.”