Rob Dempsey is General Manager of SA’s peak seniors organisation, COTA Seniors Voice
Tell us about your career and how it led to COTA Seniors Voice.
I joined COTA Seniors Voice as General Manager in August this year. My career in health and community services spans more than 30 years. During that time I have held several CEO positions in hospitals in South Australia and Victoria as well as organisations such as Aged and Community Services for South Australia and the Northern Territory.
Prior to joining COTA Seniors Voice I was a health industry consultant on numerous projects throughout Australia and New Zealand, primarily in the areas of disabilities, mental health, drugs and alcohol, and ageing.
As General Manager of COTA Seniors Voice I assist Chief Executive, Ian Yates, in leading our organisation in the pursuit of its strategic mission. I do this in conjunction with our senior management team as well as more than 65 staff and 120 volunteers in COTA and our membership, advocacy and insurance operations.
Specifically, I am responsible for day-to-day operations in South Australia while Ian commits most of his time to his national responsibilities as Chief Executive of COTA Australia.
What have been the highlights of your career to date?
There have been so many to choose from. I have seen and done some amazing things during my career and have had the privilege to work closely with many inspirational leaders in the health and community care sector.
Two particular highlights of my career have been as CEO of North Eastern Community Hospital and my time as a consultant when I travelled extensively throughout Australia and New Zealand and met people from all walks of life and cultures. The opportunity to work with Aboriginal, Maori and Pacific Islander people was a real privilege.
What are the most rewarding aspects of your role?
COTA Seniors Voice is an amazingly diverse and dedicated organisation. Everyone at COTA is deeply committed to achieving our organisational goal to be the representative body for older South Australians through the delivery of lobbying, policy development and advocacy services.
We also provide a wide range of innovative programs to assist and inform people on issues including depression in older people, the quality use of medicines, our Strength for Life program, networking in clubs and of course our Every Generation Festival, amongst many other activities and services.
For me the most rewarding aspect is working with and talking with people in the community to understand their needs and concerns and using this knowledge to bring about real change and improvement in quality of life for the people we represent.
COTA Seniors Voice aims to improve the lives of older South Australians. How is this achieved?
COTA Seniors Voice informs and influences Governments, decision makers, business leaders, media and the community about key issues affecting South Australia’s seniors.
We are responsible for leading policy development, advocacy and representation on behalf of the more than 20,000 older South Australians who COTA directly represents and indirectly for all people over the age of 50.
As outlined above, we also operate a broad range of programs and events designed to help older people remain physically and socially active and provide recognition of the important contribution they make to our community.
These include Strength for Life, which assists thousands of older South Australians to undertake specialised strength training and fitness sessions. We also have a range of peer education programs that are designed to educate older people about subjects like better use of medicines, falls prevention, home safety and security and, in partnership with the “beyond blue’” organisation, depression.
What are some things that South Australians might not know about COTA?
COTA Seniors Voice in South Australia has been centrally involved in the development of every major State Government policy related to ageing over the past 21 years, as well as a number of national initiatives. In many cases we have been the key driver for reform.
Over the last 21 years COTA in South Australia has grown from one organisation with a handful of staff to a group of state and national organisations with over 60 staff, more than 120 volunteers and 20,000 individual members in SA alone.
The COTA group in SA has a combined turnover of over $9 million, plus an insurance business worth over $10 million annually.
COTA in South Australia has become the national leader of the COTA movement with the policy, program, membership and insurance arms of COTA all now Adelaide based.
What are some of the major challenges currently faced by older South Australians?
Rising costs of essential services and daily living continue to be a major challenge for older South Australians.
Other issues include the availability of transport, social isolation, access to health and aged care services, access to affordable housing, insufficient levels of superannuation, employment opportunities and abuse of the elderly.
These are just some of the many issues on COTA’s policy agenda.
How can South Australian businesses become involved in supporting the work of COTA Seniors Voice?
I strongly encourage all businesses to look at the virtues of employing older people. These people have a wealth of knowledge and experience and are highly adaptable to most working environments. They are also loyal employees with a strong work ethic.
Another way that businesses can support the work of COTA Seniors Voice is to become a corporate member or alternatively, for those over 50, to join COTA Seniors Voice as an individual member and support the ethos of positive ageing.
What is your vision for COTA Seniors Voice in South Australia?
My vision is for COTA Seniors Voice to continue its strong membership growth, both in South Australia and nationally, and to be the peak representative body for older people.
The ageing of the population over the next few decades will definitely present challenges for both the community and governments in terms of capacity to meet future demands. COTA’s role will be crucial in shaping future policy to ensure social equity for older people.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I enjoy spending time with my family and riding my motorbike. I also enjoy water and snow skiing, fishing – in fact, most outdoor activities – as well as music and theatre.