She's retiring, but retirement expert Diana Triplow looks 10 years younger than her age and has the energy of a powerhouse. She is also delighted to bow out with the top award for aged care in New Zealand, the Vcare Legendary Service to the Aged Residential Care Industry award.
Diana was named the Retirement Village Association's New Zealand Manager of the Year in 2012. She set up St Johns Wood in Taupō and since 2001 was based at Mary Doyle in Hawke's Bay. Diana says her career has consumed her life in a positive way for 21 years.
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The Taupō connection began in 1985 when husband Selwyn Triplow took up a position in the management team at Wairākei Resort and the family lived on site. He would later put his skills in tourism to good use by running week-long trips to Australia and Norfolk Island for groups of Mary Doyle residents.
"Selwyn organised everything for them, it was very social. They just needed their pills, their passport and their money!"
Diana's profession as a trained nurse has taken her all over the world. An interest in aged care was sparked at Nottingham General Hospital in 1982 where she was charged with setting up a new unit for elderly services with an emphasis on creating a homely environment and getting away from the institutional ward system.
"Then they kicked me out of the country! My visa had expired and they said they wanted to give the job to a Brit."
In 1986 she married and moved to Taupō and worked as a nurse at Taupō Hospital. After two years nursing, she moved into management and in 1998 was approached by Terry Pratley to set up St Johns Wood Resthome and Village. When that was complete she was just thinking about a new challenge when Terry, who was a director at Hurst Lifecare, asked her to manage the new village development at Mary Doyle Lifecare in Havelock North.
"In 2001, Mary Doyle was only 2ha with 80 staff. They had just bought 25 acres (10ha)."
A restructure in 2002 saw Diana appointed as general manager of Mary Doyle Lifecare. Growth was swift with the development of two dementia units, a rest home and two hospitals and the retirement village expanded to 15ha. By June 2019 Mary Doyle had a total staff of 261 with over 450 residents including 162 elderly residents in the care facilities.
Outside of Mary Doyle, Diana made a significant contribution to the aged care industry, and this was a significant factor in her receiving the top award.
Diana is particularly proud of the introduction of the Arvida-Living Well Model of Care and resident centred households into Mary Doyle. It is elderly care that emulates living in a normal household as opposed to living in an institution.
Over her career she has seen a huge change in retirement living and aged care.
"I've come from the single-sex Nightingale wards in the UK to a resident-focused living well model of care."
She foresees a "tsunami" of people needing aged care in the future.
"We are living longer and dementia is now far more prevalent than 21 years ago when I started my journey in aged care in New Zealand."
Having the choice to stay at home or the choice of going into aged care is important, says Diana.
"All residents must be assessed for eligibility to enter an aged care facility and it's disappointing that some DHBs are not allowing people the choice of going into aged care. Assessments are inconsistent throughout the country and they make it so hard for the older person and their family. Home-based care is great, however not always the safest, most appropriate option and the cost effectiveness is questionable."
"I wish I had done this years ago," is commonly said by residents when they first came to Mary Doyle, says Diana. She says residents are so well looked after that living in an aged care facility often results in an improvement in health and best of all, the elderly lose their social isolation.
In 2017 Hurst Lifecare sold Mary Doyle to the Arvida Group. She has only praise for her employers in the 21 years she worked in aged care.
"Unlike other corporate groups, Hurst Lifecare and Arvida Group are very family orientated and provide a support structure that allowed me to manage the villages independently, and in a way that kept their identity."
She says what is paramount is the teams within the retirement village, hospital or respite care service.
"Regardless of who owns it, it's the culture and the people working in the facility that are important."
Her advice for someone choosing a retirement living option is to research where they are going to live. Look at the values and vision of the operator, pick up the vibe by visiting your future home and talk to those who live and work there. She suggests asking the staff if they would recommend the facility to their family and friends and asking the residents, if they were to choose again would they choose to live here?
"If it's a five star organisation but the staff and residents are unhappy then you probably won't be happy. It is all about the feel of a place."
Her own retirement plans are fairly hectic, with tennis, golf and mahjong featuring. And then there is the $1000 travel voucher she won as part of her prize.
"I've retired, but I will always be involved in aged care. I guess it's just a passion of mine."
In recent years the Triplows have been 'retirement proofing' their Kinloch cottage, and are looking forward to seeing more of Auckland-based family.
"It's rather nice to have started my aged care journey in Taupō, and then to retire back here" says Diana.