IT takes a special person to work in aged care. It takes an exceptional person to work in the industry for 30 years or more.
Irene Balkema this year marks 30 years with Anglican Care.
“I’ve got one of the best jobs ever, and I’ve absolutely loved it,” Ms Balkema said.
In her 30 years with the organisation Ms Balkema has had several roles – including in dementia units – across Anglican Care facilities at Carey Bay, Merewether, Booragul and Toronto.
For the past four years she has been the resident liaison officer at Toronto Nursing Home and Kilpatrick Court, in Toronto.
But it’s hardly the end of her career.
“My goal is to reach 40 years with Anglican Care,” she said.
Ms Balkema was one of about 1000 aged care staff honoured by Anglican Care on Wednesday as part of the Health Services Union’s ‘Thank You for Working in Aged Care Day’.
Ms Balkema was aged 26 when, in September, 1987, she walked into the reception area at Carey Bay Nursing Home unannounced and asked for a job.
Earlier this year: Anglican Care boss retires after 47 years
She had previously worked in retail, but had always felt an affinity with older people, and enjoyed helping them whenever she could.
“I just said to the matron that I’d like to work with old people. What do I need to do?” she said.
She was promptly offered a trial, and was soon employed in patient care, helping residents to shower, feeding them, and generally tending to their daily needs.
“I was there for 23 years,” Ms Balkema said.
“I was earning $7.95 an hour, with penalties, at the start, and I thought I was so well off,” she smiled.
But you get the sense it has never been about the money for Ms Balkema.
It’s always been about the job satisfaction and respect.
“It’s just been a really lovely experience working in aged care, and with everyone at Anglican Care,” she said.
“Everyone here is appreciated equally for what they do – regardless of what their role is.”
Ms Balkema said she had enjoyed building on her formal education in aged care, including a Certificate III and Certificate IV in nursing, and regular in-house training.
While it’s now essential for aged care workers to have formal qualifications, there are some personal traits, too, that Ms Balkema said staff needed to make a satisfying and long career in the industry.
“I think you’ve got to be resilient, flexible, understanding and caring – you’ve got to have a caring nature,” she said.
Ms Balkema said it was the lessons she’d learned from aged care residents that have made the biggest difference to her career.
“The residents have taught me a lot about respect and patience. I’ve realised that you have to let the residents make their own decisions in life. You’ve got to listen to what people say to you, because they know what they want.
“Sometimes the residents just want to talk to you. And sometimes we are the only ‘family’ that they have.
“I’ve also learned to take every day and treat it with respect.”
Anglican Care CEO Colin Osborne paid tribute to the organisation’s staff on Wednesday.
“It is not always the easiest of professions and it takes a caring, empathetic and dedicated soul,” he said.
“At the core of everything we do is our resident or consumer and that is what makes our staff so dedicated to Anglican Care.”
He acknowledged Anglican Care’s longest serving staff members including Ms Balkema and Cheryl Miller who each brought up 30 years, and Marion O’Hearn who retired last month following 35 years with the organisation.
A further 83 staff this year celebrate 10 years or more with Anglican Care.
Mr Osborne said that when one considers that the national average tenure in a job in 2018 was three years and four months, it said a lot about the level of dedication and loyalty of the staff of Anglican Care.
Ms Balkema praised Anglican Care as an employer that “really do look after their staff” and there was nothing she would change about her career if she could have her time over.
“I’ve given what I could give, and I’ve received what I needed to,” she said.