Today was a bittersweet day for the Kilmore District Health (KDH) family as we fare-welled long-term employee, Jitka Jilich.
Jitka started her KDH journey 14 years ago in 2009, and it was a point in time that will continue to stay with her.
“My interview was the day before the Black Saturday bushfires started in Kilmore East,” Jitka recalled.
As devastating as Black Saturday proved to be, fortunately Jitka joined the KDH team as part of the ‘Count us in!’ initiative to support older people in residential aged care to remain connected with their communities and hobbies. With a background in social work, engagement and inclusion, Jitka was a great fit, but her role at KDH evolved over time to reflect her experience and passion.
“I had done a lot of work in the disability field and on consultative work, as well as training with the Department of Health and Human Services around engagement and inclusion,” Jitka said.
“I think that’s why I got the job, because of my previous experience in looking at how we can include disadvantaged groups.
“How do we find ways for everyone to be more actively included in their community and how do we challenge and support communities to build improved access?
“It’s taken a long time for the community to be much more accepting and welcoming, and recognise that regardless of abilities, that everyone is an equal part of the community.
“Part of the Count us in! program’s focus was to build stronger connections with the community that our residents had called home prior to entering aged care.
“Older people have lived their whole lives in this community. They’ve lived, worked and volunteered here, had their families here and suddenly they’re living in aged care and it feels like this real separation.”
Jitka later expanded her portfolio to include KDH’s volunteer program. Volunteers have been part of the KDH team for years, and in those earlier days would mostly support meal times in Caladenia Nursing Home and Dianella Hostel, along with the Kilmore Hospital Op Shop and the Women’s Auxiliary, as it was previously known.
“In Caladenia and Dianella apart from mealtimes and running bingo, volunteers didn’t get involved in many other ways so we decided to build up the volunteer program and look at how they could be more actively involved. That worked really well and we really increased the number of volunteers.
“This allowed for increased activities as well as more personalised opportunities for those not interested in larger group activities.
“It was about being able to respond more individually to people rather than consider every person in aged care as the mass.
“I also became involved in the diversity work and ultimately took up the portfolio, supporting accessibility, inclusion and health literacy within KDH.
“I’m really proud of where that got to. I think there’s always work to be done and it’s an ongoing process, but I think that we are a much more inclusive organisation and there’s a greater ownership by everyone of what being inclusive means.
“It’s both a governance and systemic process, and it’s also each of us at a ground level, whether it’s the receptionist, the nurse, the environmental staff or kitchen staff. We all have a really important role in ensuring everyone has equal rights to receive services and receive them in a welcoming way. This is important as we increasingly becoming a much more diverse community.”
With 14 years under her belt, it was hard for Jitka to choose just one highlight.
“I’m quite proud of the volunteer program.
“I’m proud of building relationships with volunteers and supporting them and celebrating them. I’m proud of the Reconciliation Action Plan, the work that we’ve done to build stronger connections with Aboriginal people and organisations and to better support them as consumers at KDH.
“I’ve loved getting back to social work as well. It’s amazing to work one-to-one with people and with families. Social work here at Kilmore is from pre-birth, through to aged care and palliative care, so it’s right across the life span and you get to work with people everywhere and of all ages.
“It’s pretty special.”
So, what will Jitka miss the most?
“I’m going to miss relationships that have been built with staff. There are just amazing staff here at Kilmore so I’ll miss them.
“I’m really going to miss the Caladenia and Dianella residents. When you work one-to-one with residents and they’re older…you can imagine the lives they’ve had. And the fact that they’re willing to share their story with you is pretty incredible and humbling.
“And the same when you’ve got a 20-year-old who has come in experiencing anxiety; to hear people’s stories and their willingness to trust you and to share that story in the hope that you might able to help with things, you realise that everyone’s life is rich.
“The other thing I’ll miss is the volunteers. I will miss them because I’ve enjoyed really good relationships with them and I don’t think we acknowledge our volunteers enough. We forget that they give the hours that they give totally free. There’s no money. Their generosity of spirit and their willingness to really get involved in what we do is an enormous contribution.”
For some, heading into retirement can be daunting. For Jitka, time will be filled with things that are just as important as the work she’s dedicated her life to.
“I’m really excited. I’m surprised that I’m ready but there is still a bit of sadness. I wanted it to feel right when I made the decision.
“I’m now at the point where I’m reprioritising my time and it feels incredibly right. I’m just looking forward to doing so many more things with my time. I’m pretty sure I won’t have much spare time.
“I plan to be very busy, filling time with travel, taking advantage of good weather when it hits – that freewheeling travel. I haven’t seen enough of Australia.
“I’m going to spend more time in the vegie garden, read my books without rushing, enjoy the grandkids more, spend more time with friends, and I want to do some volunteering.
“I’m probably going to be like every person who retires – I won’t know how I used to fit everything in.”
KDH thanks Jitka for her time here. We wish her the very best for her future endeavours.