Chiefs of retirement specialist Ryman Healthcare were quizzed today about Covid's effects on its extensive Victorian operations and heard how 1000 staff had taken "Covid precautionary leave" this year - but no residents have been infected.
Gordon MacLeod, chief executive of the business which houses 12,000 residents in 36 villages here and in Australia, told investors how managing staff pandemic stand downs was a challenging area of operation of the business with Melbourne villages.
"We have had the occasional contractor who has had Covid but they have been isolated. We had extremely rigid checks on everyone entering the villages," he said citing smell and temperature tests.
No residents had tested positive, he stressed.
Ryman currently had 57 staff "off on a precautionary basis because they are either not feeling well or had a secondary association with someone who is Covid positive." All up, 1000 staff members had taken Covid precautionary leave throughout Ryman's entire network since January this year, he said.
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Asked about the New Zealand Covid-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme during the last lockdown, MacLeod said Ryman got $14m. It had been entitled to about $25m but took advice from a large accounting firm and made applications on a village by village basis.
"The total was $14m. We applied for that and received that and had detailed discussions with Government departments. It's a result of having the six-week period where we couldn't transact in relation to our retirement village units and we haven't made anyone redundant."
Ryman is developing 12 sites in New Zealand and Victoria, and is aiming to create new assets worth $2.6 billion.
Although the business was not planning to start work on any further new sites this year, it was busy at the current dozen and had a land bank where 6595 new beds and units were planned.
"We think long term," MacLeod said.
Having big plans rejected on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula did not dent confidence.
"Our plans for Mt Eliza were knocked back by the local council but that was what we were expecting," he said referring to that being under appeal to a separate entity.
"We have over 300 people who have lived in that region their whole life and they would absolutely love us to build there and we are committed to building, not just for us but for the residents and community."
A shareholder asked about staff numbers, referred to "inmates" and raised concerns about the being focused on more development work, saying "bigger isn't always better". Chairman David Kerr said around 6000 staff worked at the business in August.
Another shareholder asked about a dividend investment plan and Kerr said that was a live discussion.
If borders were closed, how was Ryman planning to fill staff vacancies, a shareholder wanted to know, referring to the many migrant workers at Ryman villages.
MacLeod said the business had only four to five permanent nurse vacancies currently yet 527 registered nurses worked for Ryman. It was always hard to find good caregivers, he acknowledged referring to state immigration policies.
Given the negative effect of Covid on trading results, why were Ryman bosses not taking 20 per cent pay cuts, another shareholder asked.
Kerr said directors had no remuneration increases in the last two years and nor had senior executives, even though workloads were rising.
A shareholder asked how Ryman dealt with "negative stories dragging up old cases" and Kerr said there would always be situations where expectations were not met and people were disappointed.
"The best thing is to try to apologise and try to do it better. We aim for 100 per cent," Kerr said, referring to Australia's Royal Commission of Inquiry into Aged Care. Ryman either met or exceeded the commission's staffing level recommendations, Kerr said.
"No visitors - how is this affecting emotional and mental well being?" a shareholder asked of lockdowns at all 36 Ryman villages. MacLeod acknowledged that challenging situation but said staff were caring and it was important to keep people safe.
Asked about Ryman's Victorian operations and Covid infections in staff or residents, MacLeod said: "No Covid so far, touch wood."
Asked if Victoria was better to operate in than New Zealand, MacLeod said: "If you take Covid out of the picture which we should do because Covid is a temporary thing, we're offering a Ryman experience the same as in New Zealand in Melbourne and Victoria," he said, referring to capped weekly fees and deferred management fees capped at 20 per cent.
Asked about Melbourne house prices forecast to fall 20 per cent, MacLeod said "We don't know what will happen with house prices." He cited strong inward migrations to Australia and New Zealand of citizens returning with cash, combined with Government support for jobs and low interest rates.
Kerr apologised for MacLeod making negative remarks about economists and house price forecasts.
"What we're seeing right now is the markets are pretty stable, people are transacting," MacLeod said. "We will be watching the housing market. We won't be building new apartment buildings where do don't have pre-sales or demand."