Up close and personal with Gabby Clezy

September 2016

TerraNova Homes & Care chief executive Gabby Clezy tells INsite editor JUDE BARBACK that it is time for more collaboration and open communication about the challenges and opportunities faced by the sector. 


Gabby ClezyOne of the hardest things about interviewing interesting people is that there is a temptation to become engrossed in their story. I embarked on our chat intending to get a sense of the main issues affecting the aged care sector, but I could have easily wiled away my half hour with TerraNova’s chief executive Gabby Clezy just talking about her rather impressive career.

The nutshell version goes like this: Clezy trained as a pharmacist in Wellington but soon found herself in the UK juggling the demands of a young family with her job. She worked within the NHS and in an academic capacity, before eventually heading back to New Zealand, where she held a variety of positions, including an auditing role in medicines control for the Ministry of Health, within the mental health and addictions sector for Odyssey, and a position as  business improvement manager with Bupa.

Clezy is clearly well versed in healthcare, however her chief executive role with TerraNova Homes & Care, which she began in November 2014, was her first executive position. TerraNova underwent restructuring about this time, using the departure of its clinical and operations managers as an opportunity to introduce a chief executive role to lead TerraNova’s five facilities with a total of 300 beds.

Eighteen months in and Clezy is passionate about her job and TerraNova. “I’m privileged to be leading this fabulous organisation,” she says.

The elephant in the room – for me, at least – is TerraNova’s involvement in the ongoing equal pay case. In 2012 TerraNova caregiver Kristine Bartlett, supported by the union, lodged a claim with the Employment Relations Authority, alleging Terranova was in breach of the Equal Pay Act. A long legal process has ensued, running parallel to the Government’s attempts to negotiate an out-of-court settlement.

I’m not good at tackling elephants so I sidle into the question. Clezy, on the other hand, is very clear on the issue.

“It is a sector-wide issue and the provider position is now handled by the NZACA,” she says matter-of-factly. Since joining TerraNova she has been very much “on the edge of it”.

It doesn’t follow that Clezy doesn’t have an opinion on caregiver wage levels. Like others in the sector, she wants to see caregivers receive better pay and hopes the legal or negotiations process will ultimately result in more funding to allow better wages.

“I really admire and respect Kristine,” she says. “I’m a feminist – we’re all feminists,” she says, indicating us both. In fact, Clezy is a member of global women’s advocacy group Zonta International. At their 60-year anniversary event in Auckland, she asked Bartlett to accompany her to the celebration.

Clezy is a big believer in developing people’s potential and places emphasis on educating and training staff. She strives to drive a values-based culture that is open, honest and fair for all staff, residents and their families.

“We’ve recently received a stamp of approval from Careerforce, which recognises our organisation-wide induction and orientation programme for Level 2 certification in Health and Wellbeing,” she says. “The cost for our caregivers to receive their national certificate is $200 per employee” – money well spent, according to Clezy.

In addition to workforce development, at the top of Clezy’s ‘to do’ list are the ongoing challenges of increasing occupancy and meeting clients’ expectations. Clezy personally takes all after hours calls to the business, viewing this as a good opportunity to keep her finger on the pulse with regard to clients’ needs and queries.

However, the biggest challenge for aged care providers continues to be how to operate effectively in the face of funding constraints, says Clezy.

In addition to delivering quality care, there is pressure to meet the demands of auditing, compliance and things like interRAI.

Providing an increasing amount of respite care and end-of-life care is also placing a squeeze on resources, due to the insufficient levels of, and unclear parameters around, funding for these types of care.

Clezy says the inadequate funding doesn’t stop them from delivering the best possible care, but it is frustrating.

“The funding model really needs to be reworked. Ideally we need to throw it up in the air and start again,” she says.

Clezy thinks there is a desperate and real need for sector collaboration on funding and other issues. She would love to see a forum developed to help foster better communication across the residential aged care sector and with others, like the home and community support services sector, for example.

“Residential aged care is actually not in competition with community care,” says Clezy. She gives the example of TerraNova’s close work with Geneva and MedCall and says there is scope to build on relationships like these.

I suggest she is well placed to take a leadership role in developing such a forum; Clezy agrees that she is up for the challenge.

“The sector requires people to be brave,” she says. “We need everyone to put egos and agendas aside and be open and ready to work together to identify the issues and come up with a range of solutions.” 

There also needs to be more recognition of all the positive things happening in the sector, she says.

“I think we need to celebrate all the fabulous things that are happening. It’s a really exciting time to be in this industry.”

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