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A new challenge inspires disability support leader

St John of God Accord CEO Lisa Evans

It was a mixture of personal experience and a professional encounter that inspired the new St John of God Accord Chief Executive Officer Lisa Evans to take charge of the service after a career in nursing and hospital leadership.

Lisa, who started in the role in June, previously worked for five years at St John of God Berwick Hospital as the Director of Nursing during which time it expanded from a small 50-bed regional hospital to a busy 202-bed acute hospital servicing the ever expanding Casey and Cardinia regions in eastern Melbourne.

An opportunity to spend two days in a formation experience at St John of God Accord, where she saw the support in action and met the clients and caregivers, proved pivotal.

“I felt really deeply about that experience and it was something I found myself thinking about every day after the course,” she said.

While this encounter struck Lisa in her professional life, her personal experience as a mother with a son who has disability also spurned her on.

“My personal experience has been so significant that I wanted the next chapter of my work life to contribute in that space,” she said.

Sometimes, the universe obliges.

Now, three months into the role, Lisa said it was an exciting time to work in the disability sector and to be leading St John of God Accord.

One of the first tasks Lisa undertook within her first four days on the job was to open a new St John of God Accord home which incorporates the latest assistive technology to improve the quality of life for residents who have an intellectual disability.

“This house is really exciting because it just shows the innovation and the technological advances that are giving our clients more choice and independence in their lives,” Lisa said.

“Unfortunately, not every site or every accommodation we run is at that standard and, in fact, there are some huge discrepancies across the board, not only at St John of God Accord.

“When opening the new home, I found it really motivating to know that we are going to influence this space and change it.”

Many of St John of God Accord's clients have lived in the houses run or owned by the organisation for the majority of their adult lives.

“The needs of the client when they first moved in as 20 to 30 year olds are not the same as they are now or will be facing as they age. The houses of the 1970s have thin hallways, small bathrooms and are not accessible,” Lisa said.

“That is generating a new piece of work for us to determine how we update our accommodation models to suit ageing clients, and to update our housing assets so they are relevant and modern.”

The housing challenge is also leading Lisa and the St John of God Accord team to look at adapting the model of service provision for ageing clients.

“We need to look at whether our traditional day service programs where clients spend all day off site away from their homes is the best offering or if we can bring services closer to clients in their homes or close to home similar to retirement communities,” she said.

St John of God Accord has grown to be one of the biggest disability support organisations in Victoria aligning to the overall Mission of the parent organisation, St John of God Health Care, to bring hope, hospitality and healing to the vulnerable and marginalised.

“These are really important services to vulnerable and marginalised people who don’t have anything else – those people really need us and it is really important that we provide exceptional care,” Lisa said.

“People with disability matter and they bring so much to the world.”

In the coming years, the maturation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability will continue to bring real reform into the industry.

Lisa welcomes this, albeit acknowledging that it will bring challenges.

“The NDIS was a huge reform, it flipped the system, and that is going to take 10 years for the system to full mature,” she said.

“We have to be competitive and put the needs of our clients first otherwise we won’t survive. We have made a good start, we have grown day services, we have expanded by taking on Marillac, and we growing in terms of accommodation.”

While Lisa is positive about the outlook ahead, she expects the Royal Commission will reveal some poor practices in some areas within the industry.

“I know that families have had to accept sub-adequate support in the past and that is not OK. As a leader of a big disability provider in Victoria, and as a parent of child with disability, I hope the Royal Commission will help improve the whole industry and make all services better.”