Circling back to aged care 20 years on

Monday, 29 April, 2024

Circling back to aged care 20 years on

Nurse Donelle Kralovic couldn’t be happier after swapping bustling Melbourne for central Queensland — where she manages the only aged care facility in the town of Biloela.

Donelle, a registered nurse with a Master of Nursing, is now Service Manager of Lutheran Services’ Wahroonga Aged Care, a 54-bed site, 570 km northwest of Brisbane.

When her partner’s work took him north in 2022, the family, including two young sons, leapt at the opportunity to move to the small town with just three sets of traffic lights.

Donelle, who began her career as an enrolled nurse in the aged care sector 20 years ago, had been working in critical care in a Melbourne hospital before the move.

“I had reached the stage where I was considering leaving nursing. The pressures of working in a hospital cardio ward were huge,” she said.

“I felt frustrated that I was no longer able to spend the one-on-one time with my patients that I felt they needed.

“But now I’ve circled back into aged care in a regional community and I love it. Wahroonga feels more like a family home than a care facility where the residents range from 65 to a very sprightly 103-year-old.

“Being a part of residents’ daily lives allows me to really get to know them and their families. In a hospital setting, a patient may stay two or three days then leave, but here I develop rewarding relationships by being able to spend quality time with them. My role is rewarding, satisfying and humbling.”

Donelle said nursing in aged care had changed dramatically in the two decades she was away.

“While the system has become a lot more regulated, it’s now more people-centred and residents have a real voice,” she said.

“One of the major changes has been in the standard of food. I remember when party pies and sausage rolls were served for dinner but those days are gone.

“I am so impressed by what is made onsite with care every day. Providing high-quality food that looks and smells appetising delivers sustenance and dignity. Some residents with cognitive decline may not remember that it’s lunchtime, but the smell of good old-fashioned cooking can actually make them feel hungry.”

Donelle said there’s no such thing as a typical day as an aged care manager in a regional town.

“You have to think on your feet. Everything can change in an instant when caring for high needs residents who may have complex issues.

“My day may start with a well-intentioned list and at times I’ll feel like I accomplished little on that list.

“It’s all about learning how to juggle the priorities when caring for residents, family members and staff.

“I might be diverted by a phone call from a family member who is struggling with their decision to place a loved one in care. But at the end of the day people are what’s most important, and sometimes they just need to be heard.

“I am so lucky, as this role allows me to feel that I am giving something back and that’s always been my goal as a nurse.”

When Donelle needs an escape from work, she heads into the outdoors to indulge her passions of horseriding, fishing and dirt bike riding.

Image caption: Nurse Donelle Kralovic.

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