Award-winning Balhousie director knows care home industry inside out and from the bottom up

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It was a long walk to the stage of the National Care Awards for Louise Barnett – literally and metaphorically.

Receiving her award for Operations Manager of the Year from comedian and writer David Baddiel, Louise was grateful to not have to deliver a speech. Modest to the point of self-effacing, she admits she hadn’t prepared anything – convinced she didn’t stand a chance of winning. “They sat us at a table at the very back of the room, which made me think there was no way we had won. Then I had to make that long trek to the stage in my heels!” she laughs.

Louise’s accolade is deserving for someone who has been so instrumental in re-shaping the care home group, and helping to steer Balhousie Care in a fresh and exciting new direction. And while it’s been rewarding, the journey has been a long one.

When Balhousie Care Group launched its Together We’re Great initiative in 2016, the aim was to promote individuality and promote excellence across the group. In the 18 months since, and with Louise at the helm of it, Balhousie Care has gone from strength to strength. Widespread recognition, media coverage and awards for its homes, staff and operations have shown that that, together, the people behind the Scottish care home group really are great.

This was the first time Balhousie Care had entered the National Care Awards, and it ended up with three employees in the finals: Louise Barnett, Heather Smith (General Manager) and Elaine Ner (Activities Coordinator) who both work across the groups Dalguise, Orchard Court and The Grange care homes. Heather and Elaine were nominated in the Learning Disabilities Manager and Resident Engagement categories respectively.

 “Balhousie’s reputation is the best it’s ever been,” says Heather. “I’ve been at Balhousie for the last four and a half years and since Louise became Operations Director two years ago, there has been openness and transparency, trust and respect. Louise is a knowledgable leader and without having everyone believing in that leadership you’ve got nothing. It all starts there. If she says she’s going to do something, she will make sure it’s done.”

As someone who has worked her way up from a part-time nurse 14 years ago, Louise knows the business not only inside out but from bottom to top. She spent 14 years with another care home group in Scotland, rising through the nursing ranks to become a senior manager, before joining Balhousie Care Group in 2013 as Operations Manager of seven care homes. She was swiftly promoted to area manager, in charge of 11 homes, before becoming Operations Director in 2015.

She then set about implementing ways to improve the quality of care, enhance training and create a new direction for the group and the staff. By introducing a quality assurance framework, up-skilling teams, and encouraging diverse skills, while at the same time celebrating success stories and listening to teams, she has aided a company-wide transformation.

Together We’re Great captured the group’s philosophy of inclusiveness. Then, in a first for the care home industry and a natural progression from Together We’re Great, Balhousie launched the Participation Charter in early 2017. Created in association with the National Involvement Network, the Charter states that residents should be part of the running of homes, from helping write care home policies to recruiting staff.

Louise says there has been a positive cultural shift company-wide thanks to Together We’re Great, while programmes such as peer-to-peer recruitment have meant employees and residents feel more involved with care. The hiring this year of new CEO Steve White, for example, was done through panels made up of employees, residents and their families.

“The name Together We’re Great really sums up what that initiative is about. We’re improving communication and focusing on individuals and their values, and in doing so we’re showing that Balhousie is very much the sum of its parts - employees, residents and family members. When we took on Steve, we had residents and family members, as well as employees at all levels, sit on recruitment panels. That breaks down hierarchies and fosters engagement at all levels.”

She adds: “There has been a re-discovered enthusiasm within our care homes, and across the wider Balhousie team. Our new strategic plans have meant staff now have a clearer focus, with everyone knowing where we want to be. We have also addressed agency costs with better resource planning, reducing our agency fees by £40,000 in a matter of months and cutting staff turnover at the same time.”

CEO Steve White sums up the feeling of many Balhousie employees when he says: “This is an organisation in the throes of change, and for the good. It’s an inspiring place to work, where employees are pushing, stretching and challenging themselves. That’s why it was such a thrill to see three of our employees reaching the National Care Awards finals, and to see Louise win in her category.”

Balhousie’s success comes as the group celebrates 25 years as a care home provider. Chairman Tony Banks is also the group’s founder. Tony says: “I couldn’t be prouder of Louise, and it’s extremely gratifying to see the changes we’ve been working hard to make, recognised at a national level. This is just the start of our journey and together we’ll continue to be great.”