IT’S BEEN a dream for eight years, but now Australia’s first Indian-specific aged care facility looks set to be a reality.
Aged care provider MiCare has revealed plans for the $35 million Noble Park Lodge facility – complete with vegetarian kitchen, four prayer rooms and a large communal area – to be built in at Noble Park in Melbourne’s south east.
And for Melbourne businessman and Australian Multicultural Council member Vasan Srinivasan, the announcement this month is long overdue.
“The Indian Community of Victoria has been waiting for this development for many years. The number of Indian migrants is growing and a facility amongst the cultural hub of Dandenong is an excellent location,” he said.
The 62-year-old chairs the Confederation of Indian Australian Associations and is a spokesperson for the Federation of Indian Associations Victoria (FIAV). He has been lobbying for an Indian aged care facility in the state since 2011.
“You name it, I knocked on every door, on both sides of politics,” he said, of his quest. “I didn’t want to give up.”
Taking his cue from other culturally-specific aged care homes for Victoria’s ageing Italian and Greek communities, in 2015 Mr Srinivasan pitched his idea to Petra Neeleman, chief executive of Dutch Care (now MiCare).
Now two years on MiCare has released its design plans for Noble Park Lodge – a five-storey 108-bed aged care facility to meet the cultural and future needs of the Indian community.
“People affected by dementia have a tendency to forget their second learned language,” he said. “And often people want to go back to their old food habits, traditions and customs.”
The Indian community is now the largest migrant community in Australia with more than 170,000 people from an Indian background living in Victoria, and and the traditional expectations of families caring for older relatives is evolving.
“In India, my parents lived with my brother until they died,” said Vasan. He said while many older Indian parents are still looked after by their sons or daughters here in Australia, it is a problem when it comes to high care.
“Kids can manage parents with low care needs, but it is still a huge demand on children who have jobs, children of their own and need to juggle all this.”
He said there are currently around 365 Indian residents in aged care facilities in Victoria.
He said the problem comes when these residents revert to their mother tongue, want to eat food they grew up with and revert to old cultural habits. But there is often no-one in regular aged care facilities who can relate to this.
“Some families send their elders back to India for this reason. I know this from a number of my friends – often they will hire a nurse to look after their parent for them back home as this is cheaper to do in India. Or they will send their parents to a retirement village in India so they can do things like go for their morning walk, do yoga, eat vegetarian food and get in touch with their spirituality.”
“But for me, as I get older I don’t want that. I’m 62 years old, with two daughters. How am I going to live alone? I’d rather live in dignity and die in dignity and have my kids close to me.”
‘Telling their stories’
MiCare’s Petra Neeleman said the company is proud of the work it is doing with the Indian community, building on its experience working with people from other cultures including people from Greek, Chinese, and Latin American backgrounds.
“Our clients speak more than 53 languages and the Indian facility will be the first we are specifically building for another cultural group,” she said.
When it came to the design, community consultations were held with the local Indian community to gauge residents’ needs.
The design allows for small group living with 12 residents in each household with dedicated staff. It has been designed to cater for the increasing dependency levels of both chronic disease and the various dementia.
Mr Srinivasan said the design is “sensitive to the Indian culture, for example we have made sure the prayer rooms are facing in the right direction and that there is large common space enabling all residents and their families to get together on special occasions”.
The large communal area planned for the facility is about linking in with the community and giving residents a chance to celebrate the many festivals and celebrations on the Indian calendar.
“We don’t want to deprive them of social interaction, but many older residents may be too frail to venture out into the wider world. This is about bringing the community in,” said Ms Neeleman. A restaurant is also planned on-site a well as a coffee shop.
“More important to us though than the building is the opportunity to create a community home where shared language, reminiscences, food and cultural identity will allow Indian elders to living in an environment familiar to them.”
She said it is vital for seniors, as they age, to be able to tell their stories.
“We will be looking for staff who have an Indian background or have lived in India and are able to speak one of the many languages.
“When we get to the end of our life all we have is our story. People are trying to put their life into perspective and tell their story,” she said.
Building is scheduled to start in 2020, with a view to residents moving in in 2022.
“I mean to keep the promise that the 75th Anniversary of Indian Independence will be able to be celebrated in the new facility so we don’t have to suffer in the cold again.” she added.
For more details go to www.micare.com.au