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Add your voice to the conversation

Chris Cilliers, General Manger: Care, Residentia Foundation, Pretoria

Chris Cilliers, 54 years of age, joined the organisation back in 1993, starting off in the human resource division, bringing his expertise and experience in industrial relations to Residentia at a time when the workforce was volatile, and strikes were the order of the day. Chris then became the manager of one of the care homes, then another and currently is the General Manager: Care.

Residentia was founded in 1957 in Pretoria by the Dutch Reformed Church to meet the needs for accommodation for its older congregants, when their first home was built. At that stage government loans were easy to access for residential care.

The organisation has now grown to be a national organisation, the Residentia Foundation, with 15 homes in all the provinces around the country barring Eastern and Northern Cape. They serve 2000 older people under roof and also have home based care service to 730 people who live independently in the community. Their care homes are the springboard for their home based care services.

When asked about what could be attributed to their success and sustainability, Chris first gives the glory to God. He believes it is God’s providence that sustained the organisation. Then he suggests it is their striving for excellence always. He acknowledges that they used to be the traditional old age homes, focusing only on physical and spiritual care, they didn’t look at total wellness. They realised they weren’t doing enough and now need to strive for joy for all. Through networking with other care partners they have “upped their game” and through person-centred care and extensive training by partnering GERATEC, they have turned their facilities into real homes. The key to this success has been the willingness to change. Residentia realises that there is a new generation of baby boomers coming into their homes and they have different expectations, needs and demands.

Chris believes the key to sustainability long-term for their organisation is sound business principles. Also customers need to pay for what they enjoy. Part of their whole person wellness is the financial leg. Residentia has developed an aid fund at each of their homes, to provide some subsidy for those who could not otherwise afford the care. Those who can pay need to pay. Residentia is cash driven in all they do and sound financial management is essential. All homes work to support each other in one consolidated account, but each home must be sustainable.

Residentia’s greatest strength is their 800 staff. Their focus is on training. Their biggest challenge is currently to get the cost of care to be affordable; they cannot simple just keep on increasing tariffs. Another challenge is increased productivity, and the gap between the lower and higher paid staff – there needs to be greater balance.

The latest buzz and excitement within the Residentia Foundation is person-centred care and the small successes seen daily, such as a resident who no longer needs incontinence wear, improved nutritional status of residents, fewer cases of depression. Chris smiles as he shares that not all staff are on the same page. Their intensive programme of change started a year ago. Not all the staff readily accept the new approach, but change is a process, and at times slow.But they are determined it will continue.

Chris Cilliers_1

It is this process that Chris wants to see rolled out over the next 5 years, and also he would love to see more older people being offered home based care in their own homes, than cared for under roof in the care homes. He wants to grow the organisation not the buildings!

As regards succession planning, he believes insufficient attention is given to it. He wants to focus on a standardised management information system where all homes’ computerised record systems are uniform to make easy the transition between homes of various staff. He said originally the
organisation focused on the autonomy of the homes, but have realised that standardisation in terms of management systems is crucial. His dream is to see the organisation paperless!

As a leader Chris believes it’s important not create followers but rather more leaders. AS they are geographically quite fare apart, he needs leaders in the various centres to take initiative. He believes leaders need to be innovative, dynamic, keeping up with the times, and changing with the times – be one step ahead. He paid tribute to the leadership of their CEO Nic van Rensburg, who at 74 years of age, is very innovative and knowledgeable , especially in the area of business management.

In terms of leadership in the care sector in SA, Chris believes organisations need to work closer together, collaborate more. He believes there’s no room for competition as the market place is too huge and need too great, and there is need for organisations to learn from each other. He thinks
that it’s easy especially for Afrikaners to work on their own in silos and this should be discouraged. He complimented and encouraged the strides being made by the South African care Forum, creating a platform for collaboration in South Africa.

Chris is of the opinion that the conversations that should be encouraged in the aged care sector, are practical ones focusing on dementia care, and home based care. This fits with his home based care dream and also that the nurses should become life style advisors, not matrons. Residentia’s focus is that as staff they work in the residents’ homes, the residents do not live in their workplaces. For many staff this has needed a huge mind shift.

For Chris, the biggest shadow falling over the care sector is low productivity and high cost of care, and subsequently there are so many older people who don’t have access to care. There are insufficient resources. Also, as a national organisation there is a problem with the non-uniformity of
government provincial budgets, policies, and implementation of these.

For inspiration Chris looks to daily contact with residents, what Residentia can mean to someone. He wants the experience of every resident to be a great one.

Chris has been married to Anneke for almost 29 years and they have two daughters and a son. He enjoys a game of golf and enjoys walking their two boxer dogs.

Chris, the South African Care Forum salutes you for your boldness in addressing change in a staid sector! Congratulations on your leadership of Residentia.