A caring nursing professional from Bundaleer in Wauchope, who changed the law to help relieve old people's suffering, has won a prestigious state award.
Karen Slater, who is manager of quality and clinical governance at Bundaleer Care Services, was awarded the Distinguished Services in Care Award at the annual NSW ceremony by the peak body in Aged and Community Services Australia.
In doing so, she put both Bundaleer and Wauchope (on the NSW Mid-North Coast) on the map.
Late last year, in a Samson and Goliath effort, Ms Slater identified an issue with federal legislation which meant that hostels couldn't keep an emergency stock of drugs for when people became palliative, or got an infection.
"I lobbied the Oxley MP, Melinda Pavey to say: 'This legislation needs to change. Resident are in unnecessary pain and suffering, because they are not getting the drugs they need.' She lobbied the health minister, Brad Hazzard and he changed the legislation in December.
"Residents can now get the medication they need and not be in pain. Getting the law changed was phenomenal," she said.
"I lost my Mum five weeks ago to cancer. She was in Garden Village nursing home in Port Macquarie. At times, she was in a lot of pain, and they had access to the medication she needed, so that was very heartening."
The new law changed the lives of not only Bundaleer residents, but of people in aged care across the state, demonstrating her commitment and dedication.
Ms Slater has been nursing for more than 40 years, and says that to be recognised by the industry and judged by her peers is very satisfying. She enjoys working in aged care.
When I was a midwife, I used to say that it is a privilege to be present at the beginning of someone's life. Well, it is also a privilege to be there at the end of someone's life.Karen Slater
"It's constantly changing, and we are going through enormous change in the lead up to the Royal Commission into Aged Care. On a professional level, it has been about making a difference in residents' lives.
"When I was a midwife, I used to say that it is a privilege to be present at the beginning of someone's life. Well, it is also a privilege to be there at the end of someone's life," she said.
For Ms Slater, winning the award is definitely a career highlight.
"It's been a difficult time at Bundaleer recently, so I am extremely honoured to have received such an important award. I have faced several challenges on my way here, but each one of them has only strengthened me to make me the person I am today. Experience has given me the gift of being able to set my eyes on a goal and not lose sight of it until it is achieved," she said.
"Winning this award would not have been possible without the inspiration I have received from my colleagues, for whom I have the deepest respect, and from whom I have derived the strength to challenge myself and perform better at each stage.
"From a personal point of view, having lost my Mum five weeks ago to cancer, it was comforting to know that the aged care facility that she lived had ready access to end of life medications to make her final weeks more comfortable.
"It is also heartening to know that all NSW residential aged care facilities are now able to hold a range of urgent use medications and antibiotics to avoid unnecessary pain and suffering by our most valued residents," added Karen, who said she was just chuffed to be nominated.
Originally from Melbourne, Karen moved to Port Macquarie in 1984 and worked in the public health system first, moving to the residential aged care sector in 2002.
She will now be the New South Wales representative for the national awards, which will be held in October at the ACSA National Summit in Melbourne. In presenting the award, Darren Matthewson, Acting CEO of ACSA said it had been a big year for aged care and it's important to acknowledge the exceptional work of providers and individuals.
"The Royal Commission has put our sector in the spotlight. It is also encouraging a big national conversation about how we can better prepare for ageing. It's extremely important to share and recognise all the good work that is being done in our sector, especially examples of high-quality care, innovation and positive solutions being demonstrated by our award winners. This is a reminder that everyone can be treated with respect as they grow older," he said.
It was also a very poignant moment for Louise Roberts, Interim CEO of Bundaleer.
"We really are blessed to have such wonderful staff who have not only high values, but also the drive to make whatever changes need to be made in order for us to deliver the best possible care to our residents," she said.
"For Karen in particular, caring for our ageing Australians is a calling, and something she still considers as a rewarding and incredible opportunity after more than 40 years. She is an amazing leader. Through logic, reason and hands on experience she is able to identify key improvements that we can make in our day-to-day operations, to ensure a better level of care for our residents."
There are seven categories for which people and providers in the sector have been nominated in New South Wales:
- Provider of the Year: Royal Freemasons' Benevolent Institution
- Innovation in Service or Design: Hector VR, McLean Care Ltd
- Employee of the Year: Jenean Cole, Anglican Care
- Volunteer of the Year: Irene Reeves Koonambil Aged Care Ltd
- Distinguished Service: Karen Slater, Bundaleer Care Services
- Regional, Rural, Remote Provider of the Year: Crowley Care
- Trainee of the Year: Carol Goodger, Warrigal