City of Bell Aged Home Care Service Sets New Benchmark for Residents Caring for Residents


With its wide streets, quintessential cafe, pub and affordable properties, Bell in Queensland’s Western Downs is the kind of country town older residents never want to leave.

But for Joan Hunter, a fall at home nearly took that decision away from her.

“As I was trying to get through the screen door, I fell, the basket went all over the place and I fell to the side,” she said.

“I must have damaged my hip because I couldn’t really walk after that. So I knew I was in big trouble.”

Joan’s injuries prevented her from cooking, cleaning, gardening, shopping or driving to doctor’s appointments.

She risked having to give up her life at Bell and move to a nursing home near her children, not far from the coast, to receive full-time care.

“I’ve met a great group of friends since I’ve been living here, and I would lose all of that,” she said.

Bell resident Joan Hunter was able to continue living in her town home.(ABC Southern Qld: Jon Daly)

But Joan was thrown a lifeline when Bell local Sarah Heathwood became her carer through an organization called Bell Cares.

Mrs. Heathwood visits her several times a week, allowing Joan to stay at home and in the town she loves.

Seeing the need

Bell Cares is a community-run aged care service that helps the city’s elderly residents access government-funded home care services, which locals then provide.

The powerhouse behind the concept is Lesley Bryce, a Bell newcomer who moved with her husband to the city from the Sunshine Coast in 2012.

Lesley Bryce in her red top outside the Bell Cares office
Lesley Bryce created Bell Cares to keep the city’s seniors in their homes.(ABC Southern Qld: Jon Daley)

Ms Bryce said the idea for the tree change started when she and her husband came across the old town bakery building on the internet.

“I went out, saw it and fell in love with it,” she said.

“So we bought it thinking it would be a weekend getaway. But the more we came the less we wanted to go back to the Sunshine Coast.”

But during the pandemic, Ms Bryce became aware that Bell seniors were not accessing the government-funded support services to which they were entitled.

The nearest center was 45 km away, putting Bell seniors at a disadvantage when dealing with major service providers.

“People [needing care] would say things like, ‘They’re not showing up, or they’re showing up on another day. I do not like them. They send a different person each time.

“There was no continuity of service. But I knew it might be different under a home care package,” Ms Bryce said.

Ms. Bryce’s research introduced her to the concept of self-managed home care packages, which she says would be a perfect fit for a small, tight-knit community like Bell.

This model allows customers to tailor packages to their individual needs and have people they know in their city as support workers.

When Bell Cares began to take shape, it partnered with online platform Mable to connect older people with their caregivers.

Jobs for locals

Brad Grieve, community engagement manager for Mable’s Qld, said the Bell Cares model was proof that an aging population was actually a powerful economic driver for any town.

“Because it gives aging people the ability to access government funding to continue living in their homes as planned,” he said.

The opportunity to earn work in their own backyard is also seized by local workers.

Ever since her youngest child started prepping, Sarah Heathwood had been looking for extra work to add to the hours she was already doing at the local dairy, so becoming a part-time carer was exactly the kind of job she was looking for.

Being employed by Bell Cares allowed Bell resident Sarah Heathwood to work closer to home
Being employed by Bell Cares has allowed Bell resident Sarah Heathwood to work closer to home.(ABC Southern Qld: Jon Daly)

It also allowed him to learn new skills.

‘She tried to teach me to iron,’ Ms Heathwood said

“I still don’t think I’m there. I really like pulling it out and wearing it. But there’s been a good learning curve on both sides, I think.”

“New disruptive concept”

Bell Cares has partnered with Brisbane home care package provider, Trilogy Care, and acts as an intermediary between Trilogy and its Bell customers.

Trilogy Care chief executive James Whitelaw thought community-run home care packages for the aged care industry were what ride-sharing service Uber was for the taxi industry — a disruptive new concept.

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“We’re talking to towns in Western Australia, South Australia, and we just talked to 22 councils in Queensland. We want to see an expansion of this concept.”

Bell Cares staff Danielle and Lesley Bryce measure a client's bathroom for handles while an OT oversees Zoom
Bell Cares staff Danielle and Lesley Bryce measure a customer’s bathroom for handles while an occupational therapist supervises via video link.(ABC Southern Qld: Jon Daly)

Is there enough work?

Aged & Community Services Australia chief executive Paul Sadler agreed the model offered an ideal solution for smaller communities, but questioned whether there would be enough work for locals to make it worthwhile .

“Staff are not employed. They are contractors, which means they may not have the continuity of income to support their own families,” he said.

Bell Cares is still finding its financial foundations and is counting on private donations to carry it out until the end of the year.

But forward-looking projections based on the number of people whose packages are going to be assigned and activated, Bell Cares will break even by paying salaries and rent.

“Then if we have 50 packages running, which I suspect by the end of next year, it will bring over a million dollars to this community,” Ms. Bryce said.


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