Attitude key to positive ageing

Valerie LyonsBy Penny Mulvey

The new Executive Director/CEO of Uniting AgeWell, nearly 100 days into the job, is full of enthusiasm, ideas and praise for the age well philosophy.

Valerie Lyons has spent most of her life working in the community sector, and has significant experience within disability and senior services, previously as CEO of Villa Maria and prior to that of Southern Cross Care Victoria.

The two essential planks to a successful community-based organisation in Mrs Lyons’ opinion are a strategic plan which guides everything within the entity and relationships, both internal and external.

“The strategic plan informs how you communicate, the directions you want to go. The vision, the mission and the values form the basis of that and you have clear objectives of what you are going to do,” Mrs Lyons explained.

“One of the key elements to enable the strategy is relationships, within Uniting AgeWell, across the broader Uniting Church and across the sector.”

Mrs Lyons is well placed to influence the sector as she has always had a commitment to serving the wider community, thinking more globally, as well as focusing on the needs of the specific organisation in which she is employed.

“I have been intentionally very active in the broader sector, in key governance leadership roles within industry peak organisations such as LASA (Leading Aged Services Australia), Catholic Health Australia, HESTA superannuation industry super fund, and NDS (National Disability Services) Victoria.

Mrs Lyons’ long term commitment to the community sector stems from a belief that the community is what holds humanity together.

“That’s what gives life and soul to people’s living – the community space. The drivers (for community-based organisations) are about social outcomes as well as ensuring the ongoing sustainability of the organisation.”

Questions around society’s treatment of the elderly have received heightened publicity in the last few weeks with the release of the Quarterly Essay by Dr Karen Hitchcock. Dr Hitchcock, an author and physician at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, has written an impassioned paper on an ingrained perception of aging and death.

“Why is it so difficult,” Dr Hitchcock asks “for so many of us to look at an 80-year-old and see an individual? What is it that we are denying?”

Valerie Lyons holds the same beliefs.

“There are many extraordinary seniors. It’s not about age at all. The two big contributors are attitude and health. Heath can sometimes change that dynamic, but attitude is really the key.”

It was this different attitude to aging, captured in the name Uniting AgeWell and its philosophy of integrated services that attracted Valerie to the role.

“Seniors are very active and contributing individuals to our society.

“It is not about us caring for seniors. We have to be cautious about using the term ‘care’ for that reason, because seniors are able and independent in their own right and we should respect and value the contribution that they make.

“I would like to see the term ‘aged care’ removed. I don’t like the reference to ‘care’. It doesn’t come from a position of strength for seniors. It implies that seniors are simply the recipients of the service –which is required sometimes – but I think it is important to position it more positively.”

Valerie is an accountant by training, and perhaps the order that is needed in assessing budgets, strategic outcomes and profit-and-loss statements is the reason for her very ordered mind. Whatever it might be, Valerie is a planner, and in her working life always works to a five-year plan.

So what will Uniting AgeWell look like in five years time?

“I have a big vision, but that obviously has to be evolved. It can’t be just my vision, it has to be the vision of the community of Uniting AgeWell, led by the Board and the leadership team.

“I see a wonderful opportunity for us to do something extraordinary in the delivery of services building on the Uniting AgeWell model, truly integrating that through all of our services.

“To make available choice to seniors, whatever their walk of life is, to have real options in residential services, retirement lifestyle and community, so people can choose which services they would like to enable better lives.”

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