For more than 20 years, while working as an occupational health therapist, Di Winkler saw the challenges faced by young people affected by acquired brain injury or neurodegenerative conditions.
Her work at a rehabilitation facility for those with severe brain injuries – a two-bedroom unit with a kitchen that included meal planning and preparation as part of the rehab program – convinced her that a “home-like” environment was extremely beneficial to the recovery prospects of young people with severe disabilities.
This knowledge, coupled with her frustration at the practice of discharging young people into nursing homes where they were left languishing in boredom, loneliness and grief, encouraged Dr Winkler to undertake a PhD at Monash that would prove Australia needed a policy change when it came to placing young people in nursing homes.
“During my research, I interviewed many people young people in nursing homes and their families, who described a long and difficult journey to find the necessary information to make an informed choice about housing and support,” Dr Winkler said.
“One father was devastated when he was looking at different aged care facilities for his son. People kept asking him, ‘Are you looking for a place for your dad?’, and he would say, ‘No, I’m looking for a place for my son’.”
Eventually, Dr Winkler realised a PhD thesis wasn’t enough to make the changes she knew had to happen. So, in 2006, she founded the Summer Foundation, an organisation that seeks to change the systems that move young people into nursing homes.
This morning we conferred an Honorary Doctorate to #MonashAlumni and graduation speaker Dr Dianne Winkler. Dr Winkler is an occupational therapist and founder of the @SummerFoundtn pic.twitter.com/2IyAzHeuj9— Monash Alumni (@MonashAlumni) May 17, 2018
The organisation has four key goals: ensuring that young people in residential aged care get access to the National Disability Insurance Scheme; building the range and scale of housing available; increasing access to proactive health services to sustain community living; and preventing new admissions to nursing homes.
The Summer Foundation has built two housing projects, one in Melbourne and one near Newcastle. In 2017, Dr Winkler founded a sister entity, Summer Housing, to replicate and scale these apartment projects by working with residential developers to build apartments inside mainstream developments across Australia. Summer Housing has 150 apartments in the pipeline.
“We want to see people living in the community rather than aged care,” Dr Winkler said. “The most successful prototype to date is our model of housing and support, which is embedded within a mainstream apartment block with additional support.
“The group home model is just not relevant to many young people. It assumes that you're single, and doesn't take into account that young people have a family who they still want to live with,” Dr Winkler said.
On May 17, Dr Winkler received an honorary doctorate from Monash for her exceptional work in the disability housing space.
The Summer Foundation has a research collaboration with the Department of Occupational Therapy at Monash, where Dr Winkler is an adjunct research associate.