AFTER being dogged by years of scandals and negative media coverage, the Wattleglen aged care facility in Sale, formerly Royal Freemasons Sale, have seized the opportunity for a fresh start as it adjusts to its new owners and name.

In February, the aged care homes in Sale and Moe officially changed ownership from Royal Freemasons to Respect.

Respect is a registered charity organisation with aged care homes, retirement villages, and home care services across Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania. The company has 10 other aged care homes in regional Victoria.

Wattleglen General Manager, Michael Filon recently spoke to the Gippsland Times about a month after the owners changed hands, and believed the Sale aged care home was on the right track to “changing the narrative”, or in other words, addressing the negative perception that locals have about the facility.

Wattleglen General Manager, Michael Filon. Photos: Stefan Bradley

“Going back to 2022… I became part of the new management team that went with the ratification team that Royal Freemasons had provided. It was about changing the narrative of what happened in the past and understanding what the issues were,” Mr Filon said.

The key to that new beginning, which began long before Respect came into the picture, was building trust, which began with staff.

“Nothing beats a team that’s united and wants to see change for the better. We were building trust first within us as a family – bringing back staff confidence and support to make sure our residents are well looked after,” Mr Filon said.

“And that’s been the drive and since then… there’s been significant improvement of the culture of the home.

“You’ve got staff that enjoy doing what they’re doing based on surveillance surveys that we put out… the number of people who come in to drop their resumes just wanting to be part of our staff has just been exciting to see.”

Mr Filon said what he’s been hearing consistently from residents is the word ‘help’, but in a positive way – that staff have been helping residents with whatever they need, and they’re grateful for the help.

“Our residents’ feedback has been really fantastic. They’re happy with their care,” Mr Filon said.

Visitors to the home have also responded positively, according to Mr Filon, who he says comment on how ‘peaceful’ and ‘friendly’ Wattleglen feels.

In late March, Respect and Wattleglen celebrated local resident Linda Wilkins as the winner of its name-change competition, after she provided the inspiration for the Wattleglen name for the Sale facility. Moe’s Respect facility was renamed Baw Baw Views.

“With Respect on board, sharing (our) same goals, it was easy for us to align with what Respect is all about,” Mr Filon said.

“And it started with the naming of the facility. It wasn’t just up to the residents and the staff, they put it to the wider community. That’s how much they want the community to be involved.”

New name – new narrative, and an opportunity to break from the past. Royal Freemasons announced in October 2022 that they would sell nearly all of their aged care homes, including Sale and Moe after conducting a strategic review.

However, the decision at the time coincided with a new funding model for residential aged care that had come into effect, which Royal Freemasons said it could not operate within.

Both the Sale and Moe homes have faced a range of criticism in relation to staffing numbers and standards in recent years.

In April 2022, Royal Freemasons Sale received sanctions for three months after an assessment found the home was not meeting the Aged Care Quality Standards.

In response to the sanction, the home appointed a nurse adviser to help them meet the standards.

The sanction expired in July 2022, and in January 2023, Sale was assessed by the Aged Care Quality & Safety Commission and was found to be fully compliant.

The facility in Moe faced a scathing report from aged care regulators in early 2023 after 70-year-old Dennis Miller was found lying dead outside the facility in May 2022.

ABC News reported that following a complaint from Mr Miller’s family, the Aged Care Quality & Safety Commissioner opened an inquiry. The investigation’s findings discovered several shortcomings on the part of the aged care facility.

The home was later re-accredited by the aged care regulator after being audited.

One of the rooms at Wattleglen. The Sale facility has close to 150 beds.