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With Sharon Douglas

by Sam Regi
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In this story session with Sharon Douglas, we traverse the heartfelt chapters of her life, outlining her journey from a compassionate daughter to a pioneering businesswoman. As the vibrant force behind Angels In Aprons, Sharon unravels stirring tales from her life, sketching a compelling story of tenacity, emotional intelligence, and deep-rooted love for her family.

Captured amidst the bustling background of Bowens Park, opposite the Royal Brisbane Womens Hospital (RBWH) in Brisbane, the vibrant symphony of ambient sounds not only grounds the story in reality, but also resonates with Sharon's affinity for energetic, lively spaces. As the narrative unfolds, Sharon demonstrates how her unique blend of business savvy and empathetic care ignited a transformative wave in the aged care industry.

This audio vignette is a testament to Sharon's indomitable spirit, and underscores her remarkable impact on the world of aged care.

00:00 / 07:51

Press play to listen to an extract from the conversation with Sharon.

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This [was] my idea - visit people in hospital as volunteers. So they called me the next day and they said, Can you come in? We ended up chatting for about 2 hours about this thing and it became the room visitor program,” Sharon.
 

7/70 Minutes

00:00:02:05 - 00:00:06:10
SAM
Tell me a little bit about your growth as a businessperson.

00:00:06:12 - 00:00:36:18
SHARON
Oh, it's been huge. Huge, because I had no, I didn't go to university, so I didn't have any formal education behind me. But I guess seeing my mum, she was at the market. She was doing the, um, the dairy free smoothies before it became a thing she was doing that we had a fruit shop. She when we grew up here, we had a fruit shop at mango hill thing, so we were there working, so she'd make the milkshakes and she'd make what we call now Subway.

00:00:36:18 - 00:00:56:08
SHARON
So she was making subways before then. She was doing the dairy free or the the boost juice. She was doing all that. So she was a little innovator of her own doing that. So I guess I'm seeing her do those. She never made money from them because she was always too generous. So my husband, being a businessman, I was doing everything.

00:00:56:08 - 00:01:17:18
SHARON
So he's been doing the sort of just keeping an eye on the accounts in the background, then to making sure that it's still making money and being profitable. So it was one time he was gutters up on the roof in the rain. One time he fell off the roof. So here I was now and he'd fallen off.

00:01:17:18 - 00:01:37:03
SHARON
So I had the kids and I'd walk them into the hospital and I had the hospital. And I just so that was a gap in the hospital. So many people there without family and they needed someone because I love talking to kids. They loved talking to me. So I phoned the hospital and said to them, Look, I've got this idea about visiting people.

00:01:37:03 - 00:02:04:09
SHARON
And they said, Thanks, but no thanks. And I said, Look, if you change your mind. This is my idea - it's about visiting people. I just said, I'm visiting the hospital. There are a lot of people who don't have people. Because they loved me just saying, Hello, how are you? It is only a 1-2 minute conversation with people, whilst going in to see my husband and coming out and I thought these poor people, if they've been there for a while and didn't have family, a family which is burnt out from visiting, life gets in the way.

00:02:04:11 - 00:02:22:12
SHARON
So I said, could we do that? So I called and I said, If you change your mind. This is my idea, which is - visit people in hospital as volunteers. So they called me the next day and they said, Can you come in? We were chatting for about 2 hours about this thing and it became the room visitor program.

00:02:22:16 - 00:02:23:08
SHARON
Yeah.


 

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Sharon Douglas at Bowens Park.


SAM
And now tell me a little bit about how that inspired Angels In Aprons.


00:02:29:00 - 00:02:48:18
SHARON
Well, one day there was a horrible situation where this lady had had come from Adelaide and she'd had a mastectomy and the doctors had said [to me], Look, can you look after Mrs. Smith? I'll call her Mrs. Smith. And I went in and she was sobbing. She couldn't get a breath, was crying so much. And I thought that I understand, I understand that.

00:02:48:23 - 00:03:06:24
SHARON
And then she told me her son, who was on his way to visit her, was on a head on collision and was on life support at the hospital. So she was holding my hands and kissing me and kissing my hands and begging me to be with her son. And I said, Yes, of course I will. Of course I'll go and hold his hands.

00:03:06:24 - 00:03:22:08
SHARON
Now I'll kiss his hands and tell him it's from you. Of course I will. And so I went to Kathy [and said]. Look, Mrs. Smith wants me to go and see her son. And she said, You can't. I said, Why? She said, You've signed a confidentiality agreement, not to get involved with the patient. I said, What? And I burst out crying.



"I still get emotional about it. It just so makes me so angry still. And so I said, Well, I'm just finishing my shift and I'm going. And she said, [if] you take a disease from this hospital to that hospital, I'll hold you accountable. So I couldn't do anything, so I had to tell this lady, I'm so sorry, I can't go."
 


00:03:37:13 - 00:03:55:03
SHARON
So to this stage, I don't know what happened or what was what. So I went home and I said, it was Valentine's Day and I was really upset and I said to my husband, Well, we're not going to lunch. And I was just I was angry. If I thought about starting a business, I would have I'd still be thinking of a name. But I was just angry.


00:03:55:03 - 00:04:19:22
SHARON
So I thought - Angel, Hospital, Aprons, doing something - Angels and Aprons. It just sort of came to me.

So what have I learned? I've learned from everyone. And in recent days, Ashley, my operations manager, she has had 12 months maternity leave. So Sarah, the new operations manager she's in and she's been estate managers and general manager of other companies. So I said, You've been my reason.

00:04:19:22 - 00:04:43:00
SHARON
I said to her probably two weeks ago, she said - what? I said, You've shown me how much. I still don't know. There's still so much I don't know and I'm never going to know.

 

"So you just employ people that do know [things] around you? Yeah."

 

So what have I learned? I've learned everything. Everything. And I always imagine being a CEO or running a company.

00:04:43:00 - 00:05:12:05
SHARON
What do you need to have an intellect of this. You had to be this, You had to be that. And you don’t. You need to have tenacity. You need to have emotional intelligence. Yeah. And that's I think they're the two most important things because you've got to keep fighting for what you want. And to have that emotional intelligence gives you the peripheral of how to connect what people are doing and how it all comes together, if that makes sense.

00:05:12:07 - 00:05:12:22
SHARON
Yeah.

00:05:12:24 - 00:05:22:17
SAM
So you mentioned that you started it as almost a hobby. At what point did it get serious?

00:05:22:19 - 00:05:40:20
SHARON
Well, when I first got Pat, my first customer. And then Sun Care started calling. I was on a train that I couldn't get off. And I've just been riding that train to go, My God, it's not the house that Jack built. But as we grow, I just connect with people on the way, they've jumped on the train with me and we've just kept going with it.

00:05:40:20 - 00:06:03:03
SHARON
So yeah. So when did it become serious? I guess. I think the first year I made $55. By the fourth year I was was doing well. So I guess I guess four years, four years is when it started getting serious. And then when, when I bought the office at Milton because that was a big outlay - I think, okay, I've got to stay serious now.

00:06:03:03 - 00:06:25:24
SHARON
We've got to grow because I like the idea of it being a small, not boutique but a small service. So that we're flexible and and we can stay in contact with our clients and be that difference, be the difference in the aged care. And when consumer care came in in 2017, that was the buzzword. CDC, consumer directed care.

00:06:26:01 - 00:06:49:01
SHARON
That's what we were founded on. That was our base. So we didn't have to do anything to change. And one of my neighbors, Carol, her niece, works at My Aged Care in Canberra, and she said, oh, everyones talking about Angels and Aprons. And I didn't even know that. I said, What do you mean? Because she'd climbed the wall and she'd come up and had a coffee with me up in the office, up the back, And she said, Oh, everyone’s talking about Angels and Aprons being the best and all.

00:06:49:01 - 00:07:06:12
SHARON
[I said] Oh, that's good. That's good. Because when I started the Angels - all I was focused on was the clients, they're the most important thing. That I need to look after the clients because we've had so many patients. The reentry level of patients coming back to hospital because they don't have the care that they should be getting from services. When they left [the hospital] was terrible.

00:07:06:14 - 00:07:22:20
SHARON
So after seeking all our clients, it came to me, oh my gosh, my angels are just as important as my clients. I've got my angels, my clients, and I'm running with them. And then it wasn't until I went to an inter-agency meeting and then I set about sort of the first time I'd met all these people. It was a Sun Care breakfast and I thought.

00:07:22:22 - 00:07:41:10
SHARON
I thought, Oh, well, and everyone was like - Oh Sharon, Oh Angels and Aprons. So I didn’t realise, I hadn’t given any consideration as to how we were perceived within the industry. But we're still to this day, eleven years later, we're still held in high regard, very high regard. So it's nice.

 

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