Brien Cree, boss of Radius, started the chain of 22 aged care facilities when his mother had a stroke.

An old TV advertisement once showcased the CEO of Remington shavers saying he liked the device so much "I bought the company".

Brien Cree did something similar – starting the Radius rest home chain to find somewhere to look after his mother amid challenges far more demanding than the need for a good shave.

Cree, managing director and founder of Radius (22 aged care facilities around New Zealand), says the plight of his mother was not only what got him into the aged care industry – it gave him a rock-solid lesson in what sort of care was needed and the philosophy needed to underpin that care.

"You could say it was a bit of a baptism of fire," he says. "My 72-year-old mother had a stroke 17 years ago…I ended up establishing Radius 16 years ago.

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"The thing was, after her stroke, I was told to prepare myself for the worst. She was in a coma and I was told she wouldn't survive.

"She woke up from the coma – but I was told she wouldn't last very long. Guess what, she improved. I was told it wouldn't last, that she could die any day.

"The days turned into weeks, then months and she started to come right with rehab. But they still told me to expect the worst."

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

Cree's mum had been fitted out with an electric wheelchair and, although her body was frail, her mind was sharp and she had a positive outlook. So he began looking for aged care facilities that could give her the sort of care she needed and which the family wanted.

He looked into several retirement villages, most of which focused more on real estate than the care facilities he needed for her: "Many don't cater for the vast majority of 65-85-year-olds who have become frail and can't look after themselves or the 85-plus age group who have a higher percentage of people who need care.

"Many have some aged care facilities but not very many beds," he says. "They tend to use care as a marketing tool; an incentive to buy into a retirement village – but what happens if your health fails and there aren't any beds left there?"

The final straw for Cree was when he investigated one retirement village who told him they didn't want his mother's electric wheelchair to scrape the paint off or otherwise damage their walls.

"I became more and more involved and ended up starting up Radius. So I have been on the other side of the fence and I do know what it is like. It's really hard for carers – my sisters did a lot of work for my mother and I know only too well that being a carer is hard on blokes too. We tend to think we are fixers…we can make things right. But sometimes you can't; you need help."

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The problem he found 17 years ago still exists – too many people needing aged care; not enough beds. It is a huge issue, he says, which will only get worse.

There are only about 39,000 beds in the country – beds for frail elderly who need medical treatment and/or nursing help. There are regular reports of a building boom in retirement homes – but not in aged care facilities. Cree says slim aged care industry margins don't encourage more building.

Meanwhile, our ageing population is set to mushroom big time. Our population as of June 2018 was 4.8m. The latest figures for those aged 65-plus come from 2016: 700,000.

Those 85-plus at 2016: 83,000. Fast forward to 2048 and the numbers of 65-plus are forecast to swell to 1.4m, with those 85 and over predicted to hit up to 315,000, according to research from the New Zealand Aged Care Association (NZACA).

So those 39,000 beds are going to be in demand, particularly, says Cree, if the current shortage of new aged care facilities continues. The NZACA has forecast there will only be 52,000 beds by 2026.

To some, the answer seems obvious – more aged people to remain at home. However, the NZACA says it is often more dangerous for such people to stay at home.

Their research found 82 per cent of older people no longer felt lonely when they moved into care, 74.5 per cent had improved health stability and 62.6 per cent had improved levels of pain. Their quality of life and their health improved – over 37 per cent had improved independence, almost 75 per cent had better overall health stability, 27 per cent enjoyed improved cognitive performance and, of those with signs of depression, 62 per cent showed improvement.

"The old perception of aged care facilities being the sort of place where people go to sit around and die has long gone," says Cree. "We are not saying everyone has to go into care. Many people are fine staying at home; they might need a bit of home care and they get that and they pass away at home."

The problem comes, he says, when elderly people, like his mother, need care but can't get in a facility: "These people stay at home, where it is often unsafe for them. They could have a fall, they could be undiscovered for days and, even if that doesn't happen, if they don't have adequate home care, many are just sitting in a chair, subject to depression and bad health outcomes.

"We've got 22 facilities across New Zealand and we constantly see examples where those people who need care really enjoy life once they move in. All of a sudden, they are in a nice environment, they have some friends and their health outcomes improve immediately."

For more information visit Radius Care.