Matiu Bush, working as Senior Strategist Business Innovation for Bolton Clarke, was trawling Gumtree and noticed that a lot of aged care equipment was struggling to sell. At the same time he was aware that many pensioners were struggling to afford essentials such as electric beds and scooters, so he hatched a plan.
Matiu came up with The Library of Aged Care Things, an initiative that donates essential equipment to older Australians in need. It also serves to help family members who've cared for their dying loved ones process their grief.
"I thought that there was such a gap for older people and an opportunity to really support the adult children looking after their older parents," says Matiu.
Established in February 2018 with funding from QUT's Senior Living Innovation Challenge, over $40,000 of equipment has been donated so far. Loosely modelled on tool libraries and the support network St Kilda Mums, The Library of Aged Care Things is linked to One Good Street, another initiative created by Matiu to encourage community connection.
Based in Melbourne, The Library of Aged Care Things is largely volunteer-run and collects unneeded equipment and delivers it to those who will use it (people who have been referred to the program, usually by their doctor or care worker).
Often the experience of donating no longer needed equipment is cathartic for the giver. "When I go to pick up equipment people say, 'let me tell you about it'," says Matiu. "When people are reminiscing, I know that this is therapeutic for them."
Matiu recalls collecting electric beds from a woman whose elderly parents had both died. "As I was about to drive off, the woman said, 'goodbye Mum and Dad'. It helps the person donating the equipment. Often I go into a house and it\'s the last thing in it, because everything else has been cleared out."
"They also feel that this honours their parents; that their parents would like this equipment to go somewhere else," he says. "With the consent of the new owner I ask to take a photo and send it back to the donor to show where (for example) the scooter has gone and how it helps this person."
Equipment is gifted rather than loaned, which Matiu says returns agency of decision-making to the recipient. "You then own the equipment and can do whatever you want with it because you're a competent adult," he says. "You may be 85 but you make decisions for yourself, and we are enabling you to have more autonomy and agency in your life."
Besides walkers, electric beds are most commonly donated. "And that's important, because if you want to die at home you need to have a height adjustable electric bed so care can be delivered, but they're expensive," says Matiu.
"We've been working with a lot of dying people in Melbourne who can't afford to rent a bed for $100 a week, giving it to them free of charge. We don't want older Australians to be forced to make a choice between the equipment or care, and The Library of Aged Care Things helps solve that problem," he says.
Future plans for the program include a wider expansion beyond Melbourne, and changing the way donations are processed, whether by easy postal options or direct pick-up to encourage further connection.