Jessica Buddendijk - van Horrik QSM | Passion powers aged-care advocate

After 37 years as a worker, educator, advisor, and advocate in aged care, Jessica Buddendijk-van Horrik could be forgiven a slight cooling off in her passion for the sector.

But the Dutch-native remains energised and devoted to her vocation – and in May 2022, received an Honorary Queen’s Service Medal in recognition of her contribution to the aged-care sector.

Jessica arrived in New Zealand in 1984. She worked in four retirement homes and conducted audits for seven years against the Health and Disability Sector Standard, before establishing her independent aged-care consultancy, Jelica, in 1993.

Her client base is mainly comprised of independent owner-operators – previously spread around New Zealand but in recent years more concentrated in Auckland.

She helps facilities prepare for audits and provides educational sessions and presentations on a range of non-clinical topics, including care of the dead and dying, dementia care, managing complaints and the Code of Residents’ Rights and Responsibilities.

“I am the go-to person for a lot of facilities,” Jessica says. “If there are any problems, complaints, staffing issues, employment issues; I am the first port of call because I know the contracts and standards by heart.”

Jessica also advocates and liaises with Government and district health boards on behalf of clients, including earlier this year at the height of the Covid outbreak in New Zealand, when staff numbers at facilities came close to dropping below the level required by their contracts. 

“There was an enormous staffing crisis. We had no new migrants coming in, and a lot of staff were in isolation. Everybody was fighting for the same staff. We had to find different ways of maintaining safety with limited staff.”
Attracting and retaining quality people who are passionate about aged care is the biggest challenge facing the sector, Jessica says.

“For a lot of qualified staff or nurses, aged care is not something they pick; it’s not sexy enough. But I feel our elderly people deserve to have passionate people looking after them.”

Certain Government decisions, such as the 2017 pay equity settlement that mandated pay rises for aged-care workers, have not necessarily encouraged this. 

“Aged-care staff definitely needed to be paid more. But people have come to seek employment in the sector because the wages are very good, not necessarily because they want to look after older people.”

Jessica is also vocal about immigration policy – which makes it difficult for aged-care and health workers to move to New Zealand, she says.

“We lose really good staff to other parts of the world, where it is easier to go.”

For accounting services, Jessica turns to her own ‘go-to person’, Moore Markhams Auckland director Kiran Bhikha, who has been a trusted advisor for 17 years.

Kiran has always been accessible and expert in his advice on a range of accounting issues and questions, Jessica says. 

“If I can’t do anything or I don’t know something, I know I’m in good hands.”

During Covid – when Jessica was unable to work onsite at aged-care facilities - Kiran was a great sounding board and source of advice.

“I trust him, and I get really good information through.”

Jessica, who has been chair of Care Association New Zealand since 1990, is also a presenter for Mobile Health, and volunteers with the Breast Cancer Association and the Heart Foundation. She has been awarded a life membership with the Cancer Society Auckland in recognition of her exceptional service. She also previously volunteered for Victim Support.

She was surprised and gratified to receive notification of her Honorary Queen’s Service Medal.

“It’s very satisfying work, I just love it. My biggest payment is getting a smile on somebody’s face once a day. In aged care you get that, people are so grateful. They have totally different life experiences from the lives that we have; they have so many stories to tell.”