In conversation with... Paul Browne

In the FY18 results, CEO Paul Weightman announced that Cromwell had invested in a 50% ownership interest in LDK Healthcare (LDK). We sat down with LDK’s Founder and Managing Director, Paul Browne, to get an insight into the business.

You established your first senior living company over 20 years ago, how did it all start?

I was a partner in the ownership of a motel in Tweed Heads that I wanted to re-purpose into a senior living village, because at that time, Tweed Heads was known to have the oldest demographics in Australia.

I went to a number of retirement villages and nursing homes on the Gold Coast, to see what was available to senior Australians. What I discovered was that retirement villages had luxury standards of infrastructure, such as heated pools and wine clubs, but the next step in the ageing journey - moving to a nursing home - was living in an 18 sqm, non-self-contained room with an open-door environment. That was what nursing homes looked like at the time, and are still the same today.

It became very obvious that there wasn’t a model that was designed for someone to transition or stay in their current position in terms of lifestyle outcomes. It’s the same person, with the same means, enjoying a high quality of life in their own home and then we are forcing them to transition to a dismal outcome, in the form of a nursing home.

That was the motivation that kickstarted the journey towards LDK.

The very first person who came to me was an old guy named Milton, who had an interesting past. He’d been a member of the Rats of Tobruk. He was a self-funded retiree but was completely frail, used a walking frame and was in deteriorating health. The first time I met Milton he could barely get out of his car.

As I got to know him over the space of a few years, and a lot of red wine, he proved to be extremely determined. He still had businesses, played cards, went to Rotary around Tweed Heads every week and remained an active member of his local RSL club.

He continued to enjoy life, and that’s something that he couldn’t have done in a nursing home, where you can’t even take your own Panadol, you can’t have a pet and you can’t stay with your partner. There is just no freedom.

Milton first came to me with a personal cheque and wanted to pay on the spot for this unit I had, but as he got up he said to me, “Before I sign this cheque Paul, I need you to promise me that I can live here until I die.”

I said, “Of course you can!” – and then went outside and thought, “How do I do that?”

That’s nurses, medication, processes, procedures, equipment and care governance systems and the list goes on and on and on. So it all started with a commitment to Milton.

It’s been a hugely enjoyable journey and I have had the privilege of meeting some real characters! I met a bloke who was the main track rider of Phar Lap, along with diggers, fighter pilots - people that you develop a deep friendship with. People that make you say, “Wow, what lives well lived!”

What are some of the changes you have seen in the industry?

There have been a lot of changes to the industry, but at the same time, things have stayed very much the same. In fact, in some regards, the sector has got worse, not better. A lot of nursing homes are now 30 years old, and they look it.

Demographic shifts are moving us towards an era of huge demand. In the next 15 years, the cohort of Australians over the age of 85 years of age will double. As it stands, there is no appropriate or desirable residential outcome out there for them.

It sounds simple, but people just want to be treated with relevance. They want to be treated with love, decency and kindness. Obviously, that’s our name, but what they want above all, is a solution that encapsulates their current and future needs. Not only from a care point of view, but also emotional needs – people want to move into a community that offers them the opportunity to continue to live their life to the full, the way they have previously.

The current retirement villages, in my opinion, will not meet the demands of the current and future discerning seniors of Australia.

At LDK, we’re producing what the consumer wants. How do we know what they want? We ask them! I’m probably unique amongst senior living executives in Australia, as I spend every working week at the coalface talking to the consumers and their families, understanding what they want. Our LDK model is the sum total of what we’ve learnt along the way, by listening. All we’ve got to do is give them what they want, it’s as simple as that.

What sets LDK apart?

LDK’s vision is that every elderly person in Australia is treated with Love, Decency and Kindness.

We want to provide a sophisticated community environment and real care for people. Our whole reason for being is to build seniors’ living environments that we ourselves would proudly call home.

One of the main things consumers are looking for is a ‘one move’ outcome. Residents don’t have to worry about moving into a retirement village for four or five years, and then having to move out to a nursing home that can better cater to their needs, losing their friends and social life in the process. We cater to every level of care that a resident may require.

Another thing that sets us apart is, because we provide a continuum of care, we are able to make the promise that couples stay together, regardless of their varying care needs.

Not only does our ‘one move’ promise ease the stress of moving again, but it also maintains this sense of community – knowing that you’re there with the same friends, enjoying everything the community has to offer – which is something that people often lose when they move frequently or are stuck in their own home.

The two things that our current and future seniors want, is a genuine continuum of care and to be part of an engaged community where they feel connected and valued. That’s what we are creating.

Can you provide an update on what’s happening at Tuggeranong?

In the words of a lot of people who come and see what we’re doing – it’s a land-based cruise ship.

What we’re creating is not just a village, but a community. As an individual’s mobility and ability to engage externally decreases, they can still enjoy all of their activities and friendship bases within our communities. We want our villages to be a better option compared to sitting out in the suburbs either on your own or with your husband or wife asking, “What are we able to do today?”

What we really want is an active and engaged community where a resident can enjoy the bridge club, wine club, learning centres, restaurants, caf├ęs, bars, where they can jump in the lift and go down and meet an old mate and engage with young people and their families.

It’s about the integration of generations, which I think is really important. It’s all about normality and also retaining your independence for as long as possible. If a person can clean their own unit and still enjoy a sense of purpose and wellbeing, then we’ll encourage them to do so.

The village will still provide care, so we will have over 100 full-time staff. This will include registered nurses, personal carers, cooks, cleaners with around-the-clock nursing care available when you need it. The great thing about Tuggeranong is that we have a blank canvas, with a clear view of what the consumer wants.

Our message to our incoming residents is this: “You do what you can for as long as you can, and we’ll do it for you when you can’t.”

LDK Healthcare is creating Australia’s most advanced seniors’ residential community at Tuggeranong in Canberra. The project, currently under construction, is planned to open mid-2019 with over 380 purpose-built apartments, providing private, secure living in a vibrant village atmosphere to some 450 seniors, all in close proximity to Tuggeranong’s main amenities.

For more information on LDK, their membership model and the flagship community at Tuggeranong, visit ldk.com.au