As the residential aged care world faces its possibly toughest time, leading NSW provider SummitCare is developing a series of articles around the theme of Trust and Purpose, designed to give readers some insights into what they do, and how and why they do it.
These concepts are vital to SummitCare – encouraging Trust in residents, staff and communities and providing Purpose in people’s lives. This is the first story in the series, profiling SummitCare’s beginnings and the Trust and Purpose they always hope to inspire.
Since opening the doors of the Wentworth Convalescent Nursing Home in New South Wales in 1966, SummitCare has been known as one of New South Wales’ most respected aged care providers.
Founders Emerich and Elizabeth Wohl were Holocaust survivors having endured the ravages of World War 2. Elizabeth, together with her mother and three of her four sisters, spent over a year in the infamous concentration camp Auschwitz. Elizabeth met Emerich after the war as he travelled from his home town in rural Hungary to her town, today over a three-hour car ride away. After a whirlwind romance, they were engaged within three weeks and married a short time after that.
After the war, Hungary was taken over by the Communist regime and Emerich and Elizabeth made the difficult decision to escape from Hungary, leaving all their possessions behind and paying what little money they had to “people smugglers” who spirited them together with their two-year-old daughter Agnes across the border to Vienna where they spent the next two years in a displaced persons camp.
In 1951, they received the wonderful news that they would be welcomed as refugees into the faraway land of Australia. After settling in Sydney, Peter was born in 1963 and they raised their family whilst working 15-hour days in a small knitwear shop in Bondi Junction where they would produce European style clothing – greatly in demand by their fellow refugees.
Around 1960 an opportunity arose to purchase a small 'convalescent hospital' in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs known as the Wentworth Nursing Home. This centre cared, in a large part, for returning war veterans and on any given day a large proportion of the residents could be found down at the local pub enjoying a beer while they swapped stories of the war. During this time the nursing home was overseen by a strict matron who wore a starched white uniform and a peaked white cap.
Whilst Emerich was alive he could always be seen walking through the aged care centers, chatting to staff and residents alike. Although he always had a smile and a wonderful, soft nature, he always insisted that quality of care and food provided to the residents was of the highest standards and that warmth and wellbeing of residents and staff were maintained as absolute priorities.
SummitCare 2020 – the tradition continues
This was the genesis of what is today SummitCare. Now with over 1,000 aged care beds in ten homes across Sydney and Wallsend, the commitment to the care of residents, relatives, and staff remains unchanged. SummitCare leaders consider themselves as more of an extensive family than a commercial operation.
In 2000, following Emerich’s death, his son Peter together with his sister Agnes assumed the role of Chairman/ Director and owner of SummitCare.
Elizabeth passed away some twelve years later and tragically Agnes also passed away three years after Elizabeth after enduring a battle with cancer.
Peter had commenced his career in the 1980s proudly working alongside his father. He earned a Degree in Health Administration and worked in the USA where he became a licensed nursing home Administrator in the State of California. On his return to Australia, Peter worked closely with his father for the next 15 years.
“We’ve come a long way since the beginning,” says Peter. “But the foundations were always there. I learned everything from my father about compassion and care.”
Peter is still driven by a passion for aged care and the provision of excellence for his residents, staff and others who benefit from its services.
He, his wife Jenny and children are involved in the business and a range of charitable pursuits which specifically target Australians who find themselves in dire need. It is this giving back to Australians in need that makes them most proud.
Nearly 60 years later, the Wohl family tradition of care, philanthropy and service to others continues through SummitCare.
As Peter says, "today, we continue in the tradition set down by our founders, my parents and my sister. We are a company steeped in our values – Warmth Worth and Wellbeing."
Speaking of the current pandemic situation, Peter says that he feels particularly blessed because of the "people that surround me at this particular time – our SummitCare staff, our residents and their families."
“The way everyone has come together during this time has been truly extraordinary and I cannot express my own and my family’s gratitude for the way our SummitCare family has responded to this crisis.”
“I know our staff have all banded together without complaint, come to our centres and provided outstanding care, love, warmth and support to our residents and their families. I could not be prouder or have more gratitude to you all individually for everything that is done each and every day.
“I would like to express my sincere thanks to our residents and their families who I know must suffer through extraordinary stress. It is for you all that our team unite and we all hope that our being here for you all during these times brings you some comfort.”
After all this time in his family’s business amidst the most challenging circumstances the industry has ever seen, for SummitCare
and Peter Wohl, it still comes back to two important things – Trust and Purpose.