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anna shepherd: interview

Image courtesy of Regal Home Health

Image courtesy of Regal Home Health

On the list of winners for the 2015 Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence Awards is Anna Shepherd. She is the CEO of Regal Home Health, which offers nurse-led private home healthcare. In addition, she is also an Adjunct Associate Professor with the University of Sydney Nursing School. She has contributed to the curriculum for their Masters In Primary Health Care Nursing and last week she helped found the Sydney Nursing School Primary Health Care Nursing Forum. I spoke to her about raising the profile of community nursing and her commitment to corporate social responsibility.

How did you become involved with Regal Home Health?

I joined Regal in 1984. I started off in the fashion industry – as you do.  Then my mother asked me to help her out for a month with admin. 32 years later I now own the company. My mother founded the company in 1966. She was the most incredible mentor because she was so passionate about setting high standards in our company and for the industry. She formed a peak body for the industry in the late eighties called the Primary Nurse Practitioners Society. The aim was to create a peak body for nurses who were primarily working in the community.

What does Regal do now?

We are similar to a large teaching hospital, in the same size as Westmead Hospital.  My ambition was that we would be accredited like a hospital. I approached the Australian Council on Health Care Standards in 1992. I wanted the hospitals to trust that nursing and allied health services could be delivered to a similar standard in the community as they are in hospitals. The Australian Council on Health Care Standards only accredited hospitals up until 1994. Regal was the first private home health care company in Australia to be accredited. It nearly killed me! We had to set up a medical advisory board; we had to write policies and procedures for every aspect of the company and establish a quality framework; I had to engage the whole workforce to do something really extraordinary.  It was a fully integrated approach to raising the standards of the industry. I’ve been doing this work for 32 years and people trust me. They trust that my ambition is to advocate for nursing and allied health in the community. I really believe they have a powerful influence in keeping people at home and keeping people out of hospital.  We should be keeping people out of hospitals and using them only for when patients have an acute need.

What is the benefit of keeping people in their homes while they are treated?

If you have an expert clinician coming into your home it means that you can be managed proactively. Any signs of deterioration can be picked up earlier. It’s known to produce much better results for the patient. Something as simple as a UTI, Urinary Tract Infection, means people can end up in emergency unnecessarily, then the emergency department resources are focused on someone who could be managed at home and the ED resources used for higher need people.

What role does in-home care play in preventing isolation? 

Sadly, I’ve had a number of close family and friends succumb to suicide in my life.   In 2007 my much loved brother committed suicide.  Among many  reasons for his suicide, what was significant was his social isolation. Often when people have mental health issues they don’t want to be a burden on their families. If we are able to provide community strategies to connect people and for example have consistent medication, that can really impact on their day to day experience of life and their outcome. It’s also very much about community. Having nurses come to your home means you are connected to the  community. It addresses social isolation in a very fundamental way. Nurses look at patients in a holistic way – the way that they work is about integrating the patient into the community. If they visited a patient and found that they were socially isolated, for example we have a knitting program, where the patients knit squares that are made into blankets and then sent all over the world through an organisation called Wrapt With Love. My mother runs that program for Regal. I have inherited her legacy of absolute commitment to being of service and raising the profile of nursing towards the highest standards.

What is the significance of awards that celebrate and recognise women?

It creates awareness that women are doing powerful things and making a difference. I’ve been very fortunate. When I was at Harvard Business School, where I was one of 16 women amongst 100 men, I never experienced discrimination. In fact I felt highly respected – it appeared to be extraordinary to them to have a female CEO. They embraced women in business. And because I work in a female dominated industry, being a woman has never been an issue. But many boards that I go to, every table that I sit at I’m often the only person there representing community nursing and I am often the only woman. But I feel like I am sitting at the table because of my skills, not because I am a woman. I would be really, really worried if I was sitting at a table because I was a woman. I am absolutely the poster girl for persistence in showing up and asking to sit at the table. For myself, this award allows me to shine a very big light on what nurses can do to assist with so many issues in our society. The biggest problems we have in our health system are around social isolation and an escalating demand and cost for health services, Community Nurses offer a solution, a cost effective solution. We have an epidemic of suicide across all age groups. Suicide in elderly people is also trending upwards. We have people with mental health challenges who, by having the expertise of an integrated primary health solution, can live very good and productive lives. There is so much that can be done by an organisation like Regal where we are catering to physical, mental and social needs with a strong focus on giving back both professionally and in the community.

To find out more about Regal Home Health click here

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