Worldwide recognition for Mandurah's Don Pember

When Mandurah aged care provider Don Pember started working at Coolibah Total Caring two decades ago the aged care centre had only 32 personal care units and a little retirement village with about 50 more small units.

“When I first started there I spoke to the board chairman and I said ‘we better start getting some money because we’ve got no money in the bank and we need to make some money so you can pay me next year’,” he said.

And so they did.

Twenty years later, the facility on Third Avenue has $35 million worth of assets, 138 aged care places, 90 home care packages, an 18-bed respite house – the biggest of its kind in Australia-, a six-bedroom cottage and 16 service departments all on site.  

“We went from having about $65,000 when I arrived with a small site to now what we’ve got, which is about three hectares,” he said.

“It’s probably the only one of its kind on the one side of Australia and with so many varied services.”

Mr Pember’s two-decade-long effort to transform aged care was recognised internationally this month when he traveled to London to attend the 2016 Global Awards. 

The Mandurah provider was nominated for the 2016 Most Outstanding Individual Contributor to Seniors Housing in the World and took the award home.

“Coolibah has been a very big part of my life,” he said.

“I was shocked when I first received the notification that I’d won the award.

“It was just fantastic the recognition, but more importantly is that the board of management supported and encouraged me to go down that path.”

The award recognised Mr Pember’s journey transforming an average aged care facility offering only a handful of services into a complete hub for aged care, with nine different services running on site to cater for all needs.

As early as the 1990s, he introduced solar passive architectural design into the buildings –  the first of its type in Australia – with high ceilings and big windows to maximse the amount of fresh air and natural light, and increase energy saving. 

Mr Pember’s aged care program is based in the principles of nature and learning as ways of beating elderly boredom, loneliness, helplessness and treating dementia, and relies on a partnership with Rockingham’s Montessori school to encourage elders and children to relate and nurture each other.

“What we are trying to do is to make people independent, not dependent,” he said.

“We’ve created our own world where we have this continuum of care that people can come in independently and then go through the various stages for the rest of their lives, whether it be through home care, independent units, the low-care facility or a memory support unit specialised in dementia.”

The Global Awards are prestigious international seniors housing and care trends awards which recognise innovation and exemplar age care practices and providers across the world.

Mr Pember said he was now ready to move on from being a provider to being an adviser, and said he was considering establishing his own business to guide older people through the maze of different aged care services and providers.