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Power of Heart and People in CaLD Aged Care: Interview with Theresa Kwok

Author: Xu Han 

Interview WA Senior Australian of the Year 2023 Theresa Kwok

The love language in CaLD Aged Care

What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of the term Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CaLD)? Languages, food, values and manners, arts, dress, or religions? Culture is a broad concept including customs and beliefs that are passed down from generation to generation. 

The Actions guide to support older culturally and linguistically diverse people emphasises that aged care providers should focus on understanding CaLD people’s individual needs and preferences and providing care that is reflective of and responsive to their social, cultural, linguistic, religious, spiritual, psychological, medical and other needs. 

In this interview with Theresa, she shared her understanding of culturally appropriate care and her beliefs in growing and leading a resilient organisation. 

Theresa is the CEO of Chung Wah Community Care and has been a key driver for the organization for over 30 years. Her achievements have been recognized with multiple awards, the most recent award being the WA Senior Australian of the Year 2023. Theresa is constantly reshaping how aged and community care services are delivered to meet changing demands.

About Chung Wah Community and Aged Care:

Chung Wah Community and Aged Care (CAC) is a group under the umbrella of the Chung Wah Association. CAC’s goal is to provide care for the aged and disabled community, particularly non-English speakers in Western Australia. CAC is now delivering services to over 800 CaLD elders, receiving cultural care from its diverse workforce.

What does culturally appropriate aged care mean to you?

Theresa said: “CaLD service is not a tick-the-box type of service. So what is important is to bring people together and deliver the service. To achieve this, I need to share the same vision with my staff. In Chung Wah Community Care, if you ask what we believe in, most of the staff will say we are here to build a better community for all.” For the past 112 years, Chung Wah Association has always been an organization for migrants. Chung Wah Community Care also upholds the same belief.

“Understanding the needs of CaLD people is always there, whether they are young or old.”

Speaking of accommodating needs, languages are not the only thing Theresa and her team need to consider, factors such as the number of years the client has spent in Australia since the day of arrival, and the age when they migrated make a huge difference. 

As we say some older migrants came to Australia at a late age to be with their children. And it’s even harder for them to adapt to the culture and customs here. It’s a huge cultural shock,” Theresa emphasized. “Taking into account the life experiences and needs of CaLD customers, and always working towards achieving a more culturally appropriate service is what we should pay attention to.”

Ideally, providers match clients with workers from the same cultural background. However, in reality, it's not always the case. How do you make sure Chung Wah community care are always providing culturally appropriate services?

95% of Chung Wah Community Care’s clients don’t speak English. Although 98% of the staff are bilingual, it’s not easy to always match the clients with workers from the same culture and who speak the same language.

Theresa said to PICAC WA: “When we can’t match [workers], some clients would probably cancel the service. But for those who don’t want to cancel the service, we do our best to make sure workers understand clients’ requests by using phrase cards.  Communication is essential. We always make sure the older persons and their families understand the reality that sometimes we can’t match them with the workers they prefer”.

Theresa always says to her staff that what matters is their heart. “We see examples of clients that like the services from some workers although they don’t speak the same language. They like certain workers because they feel the workers care about them.” 

“For example, when it comes to Care Plans, we need to make sure we clearly understand what clients need. Care workers go to their homes and carry out the plan. People give you trust when they feel that you come with a genuine heart and you care about them. Sometimes you don’t even need to talk much”. 

In regards to skills, Chung Wah Community Care requires the staff to undertake ongoing training and make sure they keep updated with the changes and requirements. Theresa mentioned that over 90% of staff undertook a certificate III Level study. 

We are now in a rapidly changing environment, The Aged Care Reform is turning things around. “We have a lot of workers working with us for many years. At that time there weren’t so many orders or demands about what workers are expected to do, such as putting in reports or submitting documents,” Theresa shared, “Now providers have to prove their capability so customers will choose you, and we have to prove that our workforce is also capable to provide what they need”.  

There are a lot of changes happening in the Aged Care sector. How does Chung Wah Community Care cope with those challenges? For example, the workforce shortage?

Theresa and her team are working very hard to cope with the Aged Care workforce shortage. Every year, Chung Wah Community Care hosts a lot of social activities in their centre and volunteers from CaLD are highly relied on for those activities. Not only do they understand the cultures and languages, but being able to share Chung Wah Community Care’s goals as well.

“For some activities we have in the centre, we depend on volunteers to do the cooking. They are mostly housewives, and some of them are seniors. They come to the centre, share their homemade meals, and have a chat with older people. Some of our current clients used to be our volunteers. And eventually, some of the volunteers will be our clients”. 

Do you have any advice on attracting and retaining aged care workers?

“People who can stay long normally can share the same vision with the organization. We look after our staff as much as we can. Offering opportunities for training and helping them plan for a better future/career”. 

“Aged care workers are not getting great pay compared to other industries. But it’s what we all believe in that makes us stay”. 

Theresa suggested that it’s important for the government to think about what they can give back to the workforce and how to attract people to the sector. Otherwise, the workforce shortage problem may become even worse. 

Her advice to every provider is “Do your best to take care of your staff, and make the work environment more attractive”. 

Key Takeaway

💡 Cultural backgrounds and first languages are not the only factors that make a difference. ‘CaLD’ means more than we think, one word doesn’t fit all. An individual’s personal experiences and their age when they migrated are also key. 

💡 Consumers will choose and stay with those providers who really care about them. Only speaking the same language with your clients doesn’t make you special; what really matters is how you make the customers feel. 

💡 Make sure your organisation is attractive to the workforce. Offer an attractive pay rate and take care of your staff’s career and future. On-going training is essential with soft skills being as important as hard skills. For example, communication skills, cultural awareness and dementia awareness.

Edited on 20 January, 2023