The people who call our ARRCS Juninga Centre home can rest assured they are in safe hands – not least because service manager Jenny Messell has been recognised as the Northern Territory’s Nurse of the Year 2019.
What’s more, Jenny, who has worked at Juninga for 23 years, knows the community and the cultures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living at this aged care facility in the Darwin suburb of Coconut Grove.
Beyond clinical care, she places great importance on meeting their emotional, cultural and spiritual needs and has created a workplace that embraces a real mixture of residents – a diverse group who hail mainly from the Top End but also as far away as the Tiwi Islands and Elcho Island, known to its traditional owners as Galiwin'ku Nullamboi, a harmonious gathering of language groups and clans.
Jenny finds the appreciation and love she receives from the residents, and getting to know them through their unique stories, personally rewarding.
“To individually know each resident and talk to them and know a bit of their history and them feeling comfortable talking to me makes me happy,” she says.
Juninga, spread out and with cool breezes flowing through open doors, feels good: “Some residents don’t get a lot of visitors because their families are a long way away and they start to rely on us as family. It just has that good feel; you usually hear people laughing.”
The 60 or so staff seem to be one big happy family, too. Jenny says she has always had an open-door policy, where staff can come and talk at any time.
Among them is Lyn Duckworth, who became Lifestyle Co-ordinator a couple of years ago after being a carer for seven years.
Words can’t express how much she loves working at Juninga, Lyn says, a joy that comes from supporting the residents in their different traditions, beliefs and totems, helping to create their own unique community.
Every week there is an open fire pit to share a barbecue, cooking feeds of kangaroo tail, barramundi, damper or magpie goose. There’s a popular ice-cream morning outing, karaoke, a wildlife sanctuary visit and the Nightcliff Seabreeze festival comes in for a bit of music and celebration.
“We just try to bring as much happiness into their lives each day as possible, whether it’s with lifestyle, the activities, music, craftwork, painting,” she says.
“And they all love music and watching films. But they all like going out, and fishing, barbecues, the campfire during the dry season.”
Jenny was a nurse for 10 years before becoming manager and she is happy to step into a clinical role when needed.
Aged care is in her blood, she says: “My mother was an aged care nurse in Sydney and as a schoolgirl I would help out on the weekends, maybe in the kitchen, or laundry.”
As well as the 26 permanent residents, there are 10 cabins at the back, where people can stay under the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care Program. They can come and go as they like, and be supported with Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP) options such as cleaning, laundry and social activities.
“But they still have that connection with us because they all still come up for their meals, we give out medication and they’re involved in all our activities as well,” Jenny says.
There’s a waiting list to get in to Juninga, including people in hospital, and once the word gets around that there’s an empty bed, Juninga gets a call.
There are also two respite beds to support families who are caring for loved ones – their loved one can come to stay for a short time while they take some time for themselves. “One lady we get in here for respite all the time. … They know she’s safe here and feel happy with her being here.”
Published: October 2019