There's plenty to learn from Humanitas Deventer about innovation in aged care services, part 1/3

Mrs Kerdijk having a laugh with Jordi Pronk

Mrs Kerdijk having a laugh with Jordi Pronk

Some months ago there was a lot of positive commentary on Australian digital media about a great intergenerational innovation at an aged care home in the Netherlands called Humanitas Deventer. It was clear from all the shares on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter that this concept, where students live with elders in aged care home, seemed to capture people’s imagination.

With a visit planned to my home country, the Netherlands, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit Humanitas Deventer and see first hand how this model works. I wanted to learn how it came about, and what factors made this novel solution work, so that I could share my insights and see how we could draw on these to create equally effective innovations in Australia.

Being the middle of summer, the home was very quiet with all the students on holiday and a number of the senior residents away. Not to worry, I was met by Anyta Brouwer, Manager Quality and Innovation, who kindly shared the story of how this all came about.

daring to imagine opens the door to innovation

The idea first came about in 2012, when Gea Sijpkes, Humanitas Deventer CEO, recognised the issue of the local shortages for in the town of Deventer, asked herself, “given that one of our values is being a good neighbour, how can we assist with this problem? I wonder if some of the students could live here?”

By asking herself and her colleagues this very simple question, she opened the door for exploration and discovery. While it seemed outside the realm of the “core business” of aged care, it proved to change residents’ living experience for the better.

As Anyta describes, great relationships and friendships have been forged across the generations. For example, when the students have a party or a date, they chat with the older residents about it, who cheekily enquired“….and, how was last night?” So there’s lots more social talk and banter, and the older residents are talking about love, relationships and all kinds of things they don’t generally talk about with each other.

The impact of this innovation seems to be significant for all involved, particularly the older residents, because they have been able to “bring the outside world into the home”.

Yet what strikes me is how elegant it is in its simplicity, and it possibly wouldn’t have come about if Gea Sijpkes hadn’t posed that first question “I wonder if…..?”

This example as with many others, shows just how important a leaders’ stance is when it comes to innovation and the evolution of services.

It means people can question the status quo, debunk assumptions and re-imagine how things could be.

What opportunities are there in your organisation to re-imagine how things are done?. Have you had a moment recently when you asked yourself “I wonder if….”, but then thrown it aside as being too hard or too far removed from core business. Perhaps the Humanitas story will inspire you to debunk your assumptions and to explore new possibilities.