Sharing an Aboriginal aged care quality assessor’s journey

Brief report
Published in the HealthBulletin
Posted on:
11 January, 2002
Related topics

The following report has been reproduced from The Standard with kind permission of the author, Noela Baigrie.

‘Elders have always played a critical role in maintaining the health of Indigenous nations. They are living libraries, repositories of the oral traditions for their nations. They remember the old ways, old ceremonies, songs to sing for gathering the plants, medicines to use that will cure their people. In the face of environmental degradation and excessive agricultural use of the land, this foundation has been shaken to its core’ (L.A. Colomeda & E.R.Wenzel, 1999. ‘Medicine Keepers: Issues in Indigenous Health’ ).

My first recollection of caring was the nurturing role of my Grandmother and Mother. It was through these influences that my passion for caring was awakened. My Grandmother and Mother encouraged and guided me into truly understanding and accepting the dual role of embracing and choosing the best from both cultures. It is my true passion and desire to care for my old people and that has enabled me to apply my skills to develop best practice models for Indigenous aged care facilities.

My career in nursing commenced in 1967 and by 1997 I was the Director of Nursing at Jimbelunga Indigenous Nursing Centre. In my 30 years as a registered nurse I have found that one of the greatest opportunities for improvement lies within the true identification and assessment of the needs of Indigenous aged peoples in Australia.

In July 2000 I was sponsored to undertake training as an aged care quality assessor. I could see that the achievement of my registration as an aged care quality assessor was another milestone in my journey and passion for caring for my old people. When I successfully completed my quality assessor training and was placed on the Quality Society’s Register as an aged care assessor, another part of my dreaming was realised.

When the Aged Care Standards Agency in Western Australia contacted me about my availability to undertake an audit in the Kimberley’s, my initial response was one of shock. After this instinctive reaction had passed there was a tingle of excitement and an even greater surge of honour and pride that came with the privilege of being selected as the first Indigenous aged care assessor to conduct an aged care audit in Australia.

The challenge facing me was not being able to follow in anyone’s footsteps and not having an Indigenous mentor or role model was quite daunting. This was overcome through the positive and real support and encouragement provided by: Alan Litschner, a colleague and dear friend; Michael Menso from the Systems 3 Group; and Suzanne Leavesley, State Manager, Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency WA. My thanks and appreciation must go to these remarkable people.

My auditing journey commenced with a day’s flight from one side of the country to the other and this not only moved me geographically but tossed me right out of my comfort zone. My long flight gave me, not only the opportunity to ponder this adventure, it provided me with the chance to reflect upon the influences of my Grandmother and Mother that led me to follow my dreams in aged care. It was during this journey I realised that they would be happy to see this achievement for our people. This thought gave me the courage and strength to positively participate in one of the greatest challenges in my working life.

In my journey toward the facility being audited I experienced mixed emotions about the history of Indigenous aged care within this country. These feelings were shared with my fellow auditors Christine Martin and Jenny Pike. Through our sharing of experiences during this journey Jenny and Christine provided me with confidence that the aged care auditing system was positively focused and flexible in the assessment of Indigenous aged care facilities.

Upon reaching the facility I was encouraged and delighted to observe my elders receiving high quality care in a safe and comfortable environment that was culturally acceptable and suitable. The harmonious environment of the facility was underpinned by the cooperation and positive interaction between all levels of the management and staff.

Another prominent feature of my observations related to the encouragement of residents and staff to retain and use their tribal language. This was music to my ears! This was further reinforced through discussions with other people from the area as they were delighted to see one of their own people assessing one of their own facilities.

Another memorable aspect was the positive and constructive spirit in which the facility greeted and interacted with me. Whilst the facility management and staff may have experienced some minor apprehensions about my visit, these were quickly dispelled and I delighted in the positive interaction with the team at this facility.

From an auditor’s perspective one can appreciate that the implementation of the Aged Care Standards could be viewed as a potentially arduous exercise. It is extremely pleasing to have been exposed to one of the success stories.

In summary, I can only say that the opportunity to undertake this audit was initially intimidating, however it quickly transformed into one of the most memorable and pleasant experiences of my career. My true thanks has to be extended to Christine & Jenny for their support, encouragement and mentoring during the audit. It was truly wonderful to meet and to work with two such practised auditors who gladly shared their understanding and knowledge with me.

I look forward to my next opportunity to audit with the Agency

It is hoped that all readers of this article will appreciate and recognise the right of Indigenous aged care facilities within Australia to maintain their true spirit, purpose and individual sense of identity.

Thank you for allowing me to share my story with you.

Noela Baigrie
Principal Advisor
Sharing Solutions

Please feel free to provide me with reader feedback by email: or ph: 0407 200 888