Bye-bye Barbara

Helderberg Society for the Aged CEO Barbara Segalla will be retiring on May 31, after 13 years at the helm.

Sleep late, read 100 books, and visit every wine farm in the Western Cape.

This is what retiring Helderberg Society for the Aged (HSFA) CEO Barbara Segalla says she will be doing with her time from June 1.

After 13 years – June 2004 to May 2017 – at the helm of the organisation that takes care of 635 residents, and also offers daily services to hundreds of senior citizens throughout the Helderberg Basin who visit the HSFA seniors rendezvous facilities, Barbara is leaving the organisation in tip-top condition, having piloted it through some trying times.

One her greatest achievements was overseeing the restructuring of the organisation to reduce the number of frail care beds and increase the number of assisted living units, which set the HSFA on a sound financial footing – it was officially in the black last year, and will post surplus this year.

“I don’t believe that people should spend long periods of time in frail care. They should rather be with their families, in the community for as long as possible,” she says.

She adds that frail care is also hugely expensive to run, and therefore unaffordable for most people in the long term.

The strategic decision to convert most of the HSFA’s frail care beds – it now has only 200 – to assisted living units was a major contributor in the financial turnaround of the organisation under Barbara’s stewardship.

She also steered the organisation through the difficult but necessary process of withdrawing from the Zandvliet Care facility in Macassar in April 2006, and the more recent scaling down of independent living facility Libertas, when the building became uneconomical to maintain.

But Barbara’s involvement with the HSFA goes back further than her time as CEO. She served with distinction on the HSFA board for 10 years, prior to taking the helm.

“I know now that my time on the board helped to prepare me for what I had to deal with as CEO,” says Barbara.

Reflecting on her time at HSFA, she says: “It has been enormously interesting. Each morning when you arrive at work, you know that nothing will be the same as yesterday, and you constantly have to be on top of everything. My time here has broadened my experience and it has broadened my mind, interacting with so many people of all ages.”

Managing an organisation with eight independent living facilities, two assisted living facilities, a frail care facility, an Alzheimer’s facility, a life right complex, and a home-based care unit, is a demanding undertaking, executed with aplomb by Barbara, and it is her humanity – an essential personal requirement of the job – that shines through in her interactions with residents, family members and staff alike.

“She had a dreadful, almost impossible job, but she never failed in her duty to residents. Nothing was ever too much trouble. She is a gracious, charming, very lovely lady,” says Bowden Park resident, Jackie Blundell.

Alan Duncan, also of Bowden Park agrees: “When my wife Jenny passed away recently, I had to wind up her estate, and Barbara was unfailingly kind and supportive in that difficult, lengthy process. She is a brick.”

My experience with Barbara spans a number of years service on the HSFA board in two stints, and a period as chairperson, but perhaps more importantly, as a family member of residents: my late mom and dad spent the last few years of their lives in the HSFA’s care.

After my dad died, mom moved into a bed-sitter at Camelot in Pienaar Street, Somerset West. One morning on the day of a planned visit, my calls to her mobile phone and landline went unanswered, and I became increasingly anxious, convinced that there was something amiss. I hastened to Camelot, and my sense of foreboding grew when my repeated knocking on her door went unanswered. I called Barbara, who instructed me to stay put, and she arrived minutes later. She opened the door with a master key, and as I was about to rush past her, she stopped me. “Norman, you wait here. Let me go in.” I waited, fraught, until she returned to the door, with a smile on her face. “Your mom’s bed is made up. She must have gone out.” Barabra knew that I had recently lost my dad, and she wanted to shield me from the trauma of finding my mom dead in her bed.

People who have worked with Barbara over the years, speak as highly of her. “I’ll never forget how she admitted Oom Piet, who lived in a shack in Garden Village, to an emergency bed at silver Oaks Lodge. A two-week short term stay, ended in permanent residence until his death,” says Lynette Erwee, HSFA social worker.

“Barbara’s quirky sayings, her unfailing sense of humour and her Solomon’s wisdom, always gracefully listening to both sides of any story, are qualities that made her an exceptional leader. Her grace and kindness, heartfelt care and ageless outlook on life makes her an exceptional human being, says Lindie Brink de Bruyn, communications consultant to the HSFA.

But it is perhaps this tribute from Vicky Couvaris, her executive secretary during her time as CEO, that puts into words what so many people feel about Barbara: “I would like to pay tribute to Barbara for her 13 years of total commitment and passionate, dedicated service to the Helderberg Society for the Aged. It has been an absolute privilege working with her, and I have gained a wealth of experience in many areas of my life. She will be missed, and she leaves behind an impressive footprint.”

But aside from taking it easy in her retirement, once Barbara returns from a visit to friends and family in Israel and the United Kingdom, she will remain active in community affairs through her involvement with social services NGOs Badisa and the Sector Task Team for Older Persons, and she will also continue to run her business which specialises in personal tax and deceased estates.