When the industry advocate advocates for Bethanie.

Publish date: 10 October 2023

Liz Behjat is well known in the aged care sphere as State Manager for ACCPA WA, and with a history in politics and a presence on Boards across the state she has constantly asserted a strong voice for vulnerable communities. 

She recalls always getting satisfaction from helping people so her calling to public service was natural progress.  Now on the Board of Palliative Care WA, she credits her experience with her Mum’s death at Bethanie Subiaco as igniting that particular passion.

“Every experience that happens in life – good, bad or otherwise – shapes what happens for you in the future,” said Liz.  “It is either terrible and we want to stimulate change, or it can be wonderful and we want to inspire more of the same.”

“Humans will talk about everything else but dying – education, jobs, health, holidays, relationships, children etc – but end of life is life changing and we need to understand each other’s wishes.”

Liz remind us that “none of us get out alive” so end of life needs to be discussed.

When Liz’s mum Sylvia passed away in early 2020, her professional experience with aged care transitioned to a very personal one.

“Mum was independent but with a couple of niggly health concerns we started talking about residential care which she vehemently opposed,” said Liz.

“She had been a career nurse and the old ‘nursing home’ concept was all she could refer to.  I needed to show her how different it could be, and Subiaco was the first and only home we viewed.”

Sylvia immediately said ‘oh this is nice, very nice’ when she toured Subiaco in mid-2019, and she moved in straight away.  The original owners folded within a week and there was widespread concern, but when Liz heard Bethanie was the new operator she was thrilled.

“Having industry knowledge, I was in a fortunate position to be able to tell residents, families and staff that Bethanie was a great provider and that they were in good hands”.

From her very first moment at Bethanie Subiaco, Sylvia felt like she was home.  In her first month she hosted a birthday party for friends in a private dining room; they all loved her new environment and visited regularly.

Sylvia’s niece would often join her for lunch in the dining room and they loved this time together.  “For Mum, it felt like she was still at home and able to entertain.”

“This important distinction in the modern day residential care makes significant impact on our older Australians,” said Liz.  “When facilities support their residents’ loves and life choices, such as simple pleasures like having lunch with family, it means that they can still maintain their independence and happiness.”

Sylvia met two beautiful friends in Zoe and Con and the threesome were always together.  Everyone knew they had their own table, and their Friday drinks routine was legendary.

“Zoe and Con had daughters too and we would all pop in and join them for Friday drinks; the space was always saved for us; we were expected there, and we wouldn’t miss a week.”

For the whole family, the staff made the residential experience unforgettable and special, and when Sylvia came to the end of her life, their dedication shone.

“Mum’s RN Emily was incredible.  She consulted with Mum at every step, always checking on what she would like, and how she could help.  Even right at the end she prioritised communicating with Mum; she always spoke to her kindly and with care, even when she was asleep.”

“Emily shared her knowledge so we all knew what was happening, and what was coming next.  She took the fear out of the process, and we felt so supported and comfortable with everything.

In Sylvia’s final days, Liz was encouraged by the staff to move into her room and was similarly looked after with food, drinks and access to anything she needed.

“I knew Mum was well looked after, but this whole experience was incredible.  They had so much care and respect for her, and for us all.”

On her final day while Liz was playing Welsh hymns to her Mum, one of her regular carers appeared at the door.  Jessie tearfully said, “I’m just back from leave and I heard Sylvia is leaving us today.”

Liz is still left speechless describing this scene – for its kindness, simplicity and respect.  “It summed up so much in those few words – kindness and care, and a genuine dedication to their residents.”

Jessie asked if she could talk to Sylvia as she had some news, going on to share that she was expecting her first baby.

“Mum opened her eyes and smiled at Jessie.  She then smiled at me.  And she passed away,” Liz shared.

“In Welsh culture, someone has to die to make way for a baby; I truly believe this was the final piece of the puzzle and allowed Mum to go.”

In Bethanie Subiaco tradition, Sylvia’s photo was displayed on the piano and a few words were said at the next Friday drinks in her honour.  Her friend Zoe died three weeks later, and Con within two months.  They are likely still giggling together every Friday afternoon.  Liz is still in touch with their daughters.

Liz reminds us again to have the important conversations while you can.  “Make it normal for your family, revisit it regularly, and know what they want.

“At the end of Mum’s life I could give her what she wished for and she passed away content, comfortable and surrounded by love.  It was a perfect ending to a wonderful life.”

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