Steve White of Balhousie Care Group talks to Sue Dunk about his plans to take the person-centred care delivered by the group forward into the next quarter century.
The Perth-based Balhousie Care Group began with one care home in 1992; it celebrated its 25th anniversary last year with 25 care homes within the group, and the appointment of Steve White to the new position of Chief Executive Officer.
Balhousie has always prided itself on its person-centred approach to care, and Steve is thrilled to be joining the group at what he describes as “a strategic point in its journey of delivering excellent residential, nursing and specialist care” throughout north east Scotland.
“With initiatives such as Together We’re Great, we put people front and centre to everything we do. Now it’s time to take the skills, talents and commitment of our staff into the next quarter century. With the group in strong profit and having just secured re-financing from our bank partners, we are in our healthiest financial shape ever. That means we can continue to provide top quality care for our 900 residents.”
Steve has an impressive track record in both care services and transforming businesses. Formerly CEO of Sussex Housing & Care and Blackwood, he has also been at the leading edge of business performance and employee engagement and motivation. Originally from England, he has been in Scotland for 15 years and when the opportunity came up at Balhousie he knew it was the right move for him.
“My career is in change management so I loved the idea of helping to re-shape Balhousie Care Group. The company has seen a massive cultural and operational shift in the last two years and there’s even more exciting stuff ahead,” he says. “I now have more than 10 years’ direct experience in the care sector, including my time at Blackwood. But actually I have been dealing in care for the last 25 years, through my consultancy work and in the public, private and charitable sectors. Just as importantly as the care experience, though, my USP is to oversee and implement company change. So I feel like I’m in exactly the right job.”
As the role of CEO is new to the group I wondered if Steve had written the job description himself. “I would love to have written the job description! No, that was Tony Banks, our Chairman. He realised that in order for Balhousie Care Group to achieve its targets in terms of growth, there should be someone else in place back-of-house, so to speak.
“It’s my job to work in tandem with Tony on strategy, reporting to Balhousie Care’s board. I oversee the staff and motivate them to reach our goals.”
Steve considers staffing, along with billing (“not all councils have the same schedules, so that can be a challenge for our cashflow,”) to be among the biggest challenges currently facing the care sector in general. Finding and retaining staff is a “bugbear”, he says, although with the culture change at Balhousie the group is seeing progress in this area. “Thanks to our people services team, who have really thrown out the traditional HR handbook and removed hierarchies and a lot of bureaucracy, our staff retention rate is higher than the sector average and staff satisfaction is very favourable.”
One of the most exciting initiatives that Balhousie has implemented in the last couple of years is Together We’re Great, an inclusive project that set out with the aim of transforming the culture of the group from the top down, and create environments that understand, support and appreciate the individual needs of every single person involved within the organisation – that is, to make it an organisation where people matter.
“I think Together We’re Great sums up Balhousie Care Group’s culture and ethos precisely,” says Steve. “It’s a simple phrase but it embraces so much. We believe successful care homes are a sum of their parts – the residents, the staff, the families and relatives. Making residents and family members happy and motivating and equipping our staff to do that go hand in hand.”
Steve is also immensely proud of Balhousie’s dementia initiatives, which he describes as “cutting edge and very exciting”. They range from memory boxes to multi-sensory therapy such as Namaste Care, and the trial of virtual reality headsets. In fact the organisation’s Dementia Ambassador Program has been shortlisted in this year’s Scottish Social Services Awards, which celebrate excellence in the sector.
Key to maintaining the desired momentum of the group was last year’s bank refinancing deal – to the tune of £49m – which was “necessary for us to achieve our goals and reach financial stability”, says Steve with refreshing honesty. “It means we can continue to offer the excellent, award-winning care we’re renowned for. It lets us invest in our homes, in new technology and training staff, which is highly important to us. It has also given us the ability to buy back some of the homes we’d had to sell and which we were operating on a lease basis.”
Is there a possibility that the group will expand outside its current geographical area? “There is still plenty to do in our home turf of north and central Scotland, but we never say never,” says Steve.
The recruitment process which led to Steve’s appointment was a little unusual, but a good example of Together We’re Great in practice. It included a panel interview with members of the Balhousie Wheatlands community. (In September last year Balhousie Wheatlands became the first care home in the region to be awarded the top Grade 6 rating for its care and support by the Care Inspectorate in Scotland.)
“I can honestly say it was the most nerve-wracking interview I’ve ever had, but an excellent idea. (I suppose I can say that having got the job!) There were two panels made up of care home staff, residents, head office staff and family members,” explains Steve. “The questions were thorough, as you can imagine, but it gave me an immediate insight into the day-to-day needs and wants of our residents and staff.”
High on the agenda of ‘needs and wants’ is the food side of the care home offer, as Steve believes this is definitely becoming more important to families when they make the decision about where their loved one should live.
“People’s expectations from food service has been affected by the hospitality industry in general and their visits to hotels and resorts. They want to see lovely menus and food being presented beautifully,” he says. “Meals are highly important, not only because of nutrition and individual dietary requirements but because it’s a social aspect of the residents’ day. Also it can be the only area they still have complete control over. That’s why we try and get them involved in menu planning, have taster menus, and get residents to rate them.”
And Steve continues: “We are currently doing an operational review of catering. We’ve created a new post which we’re recruiting for right now – a Hospitality Manager with a chef background –because we want our menus to be first class not just with nutrition but presentation and most importantly taste.”
He believes technology is capable of playing an increasing role in the delivery of person-centred nutritional care, saying: “Technology is making catering decisions and planning much easier and better for the residents. We use our own in-house system right now but we’re looking at doing an overhaul of that when we hire our new Hospitality Manager.”
With such a handle on what makes a care home special, what would Steve himself be looking for when he reaches older age, I wondered? Without hesitation he says: “We have a newly refurbished home in Tarland, Aberdeenshire that a number of our staff have dibs on. It’s a stunning location, there’s dancing, a bar, amazing gardens and fabulous locally sourced food [Care Home Catering, Spring 2018]. That’s exactly how I’d like to spend my time when it comes.”