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Add your voice to the conversation

Barbara Segalla – General Manager of the Helderberg Society for the Aged

barbaraBarbara has been in her current position as General Manager since 2004, but her first involvement with the Society goes back to 1997 when she joined their Management Board. She attributes the Society’s success to good team work in terms of caring, organising and doing. No one works alone in a stand-alone position; there is good planning and joint decision making. For Barbara another key to their success is that the Society has people with a heart, for whom theirs is not just a job. She feels that all the professionalism and experience won’t work if there is no heart. She shared their long service awards where people are honoured for 30 and 35 years’ service. They don’t pay so well yet the staff members are committed, loyal, and stay.


A key strength of the Helderberg Society for the Aged is that they cater for all types of residents and all care components, offering a full range of services from independent living to assisted living and to full care. Barbara feels it gives residents continuity, a range of options and prices, and there’s something for everyone.

The biggest challenge of the Society is sustainability, not only financial sustainability but the nature of the industry has changed. The concept of the “ouetehuis” is changing. It’s no longer somewhere where people come to die. Over the generations, expectations and needs have changed. 60 % of new users on Facebook are over 65, so people are becoming more in tune with technology, have increased leisure time and many people are working longer. The Society is not necessarily a place to retire. Some of their residents are still working. They do not have any restrictions about working. Barbara is of the opinion that an organisation needs to think further than the end of the financial year, be aware of what is out there and everyone in aged care should ask themselves, what would I like?

Barbara sees her role in leadership of the organisation, in mentoring staff and helping other organisations, especially in terms of innovation and best practice. She feels she uses her experience to help others. She is planning to ‘move on next year’. She believes in going when the going is good. She still looks after, both physically and financially, both her parents.

When asked to reflect on succession planning, she maintains that most organisations don’t give this much thought, and her board is not actively giving this attention. She knows they will need to seek a new General Manager who knows a bit about a lot – finance, legislation, risk awareness, care. This person will need an inquiring mind and be able to look out for opportunities; don’t sweat the small stuff but don’t ignore it either. She says that at the Society it is not easy as the Board appoints all the senior positions. The board members are elected from the membership of the Society, and not always necessarily for their skills or expertise and experience; this is similar practice in the majority of NGO’s.

For Barbara, leadership is about creating an environment in which professionals can do their job to the best of their ability, with a positive outcome for planning and the budget. The leader doesn’t shout the loudest. “My ideas are not always best – I consult – it works!” Leadership also comes from line managers and staff on the ground not just senior management.

Barbara is of the opinion that there are some strong voices in leadership in the care sector, especially in the Western Cape, to whom the Department of Social Development and the Department of Health will listen.  However, their involvement in a think tank regarding amendments to the Older Persons Act in Gauteng in March 2015 has not progressed. There has been no follow up.

She is of the opinion that apart from a small group, not many have the “big picture” mindset. There is still a lot of working in silos in the aged care sector. There is often a flurry of activity and then nothing happens – initiatives are not sustainable. Greater advocacy is needed.

barbara_profileRegarding collaboration in the sector, Barbara feels it’s always good to network, to share ideas and best practice, but because of constraints in the NGO’s budgets, it needs to be localised as there is no funding to travel, even across provinces or nationally. She remains involved in STOPP, and also SAAHA which meets quarterly in the Western Cape. She is also part of the Hospice Palliative Care Association and the SAOPF, but feels the latter is almost dysfunctional.

Younger people in the sector are realising that there is no support of government for the sector, and that organisations need to ensure their sustainability without government help. Barbara feels that the public are not informed about ageing and people avoid talking about ageing. Because they are uninformed or ill-informed, they make crisis decisions and an older persons’ last years can become awful. Barbara has great hopes for the aged care sector if people become more aware of older people’s place in society, and don’t push them aside. Older people are changing. The boomer generation have different needs and different expectations. There’s a different dynamic in society today.

As a provider, the Society’s basket of services have changed over the years. Their aim is to facilitate their clients living the life they choose – everyone has choice. She believes that none of the organisations are in competition with each other, the need is so great. There is place for all.

Outside of her work with the Society, Barbara is an avid reader, belonging to a book club. She also loves the theatre, ballet, jazz and classical music. Barbara enjoys lots of quiet time, and nothing she likes better than relaxing in her caftan with a glass of wine and a good book, talking to her cat. She also enjoys dinner with friends.

Who inspires Barbara? Older people who have been through hard times and come out fighting. She has a father of 94 who is determined to reach 100, and he inspires her. People who go through adversity with courage, and don’t resort to “woe is me”, are inspirational to Barbara.

Barbara, the SACF acknowledges with thanks your valued contribution to the aged care sector, in your leadership of the Helderberg Society for the Aged. Thank you.