Caring for Australia
A business that believes in giving back, UFS Dispensaries Ltd has been contributing to the Australian healthcare sector for 200 years
Writer: Phoebe Harper | Project Manager: Callam Waller
As the biggest employer in Australia, the health sector employs approximately 14.2 percent of the population and is delivered primarily through Medicare, the public healthcare programme.
For such a vast sector, the outlook of Victoria-based healthcare organisation UFS Dispensaries Ltd is surprisingly local.
What sets UFS Dispensaries apart is their customer-centric outlook, prioritising the care of their community and extensive network of members, but also in the wider sense.
“We exist for the benefit of our members, working to improve the health of both our members and the local communities where we operate.”
Founded over 200 years ago in the Central Highlands of Australia, UFS Dispensaries has grown to become an established name within the healthcare sector.
Based in the city of Ballarat, UFS and its associated pharmacies prides itself on having treated generations of local families.
The pharmacies themselves have been a landmark on the historic local landscape since the first dispensary opened its doors on Ballarat’s Armstrong Street in 1881.
Known as an employer of choice, UFS Dispensaries’ staff body now comprises over 440 full-time, part-time and casual staff.
“UFS Dispensaries also operates three pharmacies in Coburg in Melbourne’s inner-north, on behalf of another mutual organisation, Friendly Pharmacy (Victoria) Ltd. The pharmacies operate as UFS Pharmacies.”
A Mutual Organisation
The organisation is run by an elected board of directors and is owned as a mutual not-for-profit by over 48,000 members. At present, the company is headed by CEO Lynne McLennan.
Owned entirely by members, as opposed to shareholders, the company benefits in many ways from its status as a mutual organisation.
“A mutual organisation is a company that is owned by its members, who are usually also its customers, rather than by shareholders interested in receiving a return on their investment.”
Essentially, this lays the foundation for UFS’ status as a social enterprise.
Annual membership is available for just $10 per year and offers discounts and reciprocal benefits across the ‘Friendly Society’ pharmacies. A democratised system, all members are invited to attend and cast their vote at the association’s Annual General Meeting.
“Any profits generated are reinvested in the business, and are used to improve services for our members, offer member discounts, invest in our people, etc... This is in contrast to publicly traded companies where profits are distributed to shareholders without necessarily benefiting the company’s customers.”
True to their ethos, UFS extends the same level of care and attention to the selection of their partners.
“UFS partners with organisations whose values align with our own and we are delighted to partner with Australian Unity to offer UFS members health insurance.”
A fellow mutual organisation with a rich heritage, Australian Unity goes back more than 175 years to the establishment of Manchester Unity in Victoria and South Australia in 1840.
“They trace their origins to a pub in Melbourne where a group of eight people formed a friendly society with the goal of looking after the health and wellbeing of its members.”
Crucially for UFS, their status as a ‘mutual organisation’ gives them the means to contribute to worthy causes based in their area.
“This means that we invest money back into the local communities that we operate businesses in, by supporting a range of organisations and causes, providing considerable donations, in-kind support and sponsorship to local groups and organisations each year!”
UFS prides itself on its active role amongst the local community. Last year, the company donated over $100,000 to community groups across Ballarat and the Victoria district through donations and sponsorship.
This was distributed amongst several worthy causes, including ‘Share the Dignity’, an organisation dedicated to ending period poverty in Australia, and ‘BRMC’, a charity focussing on promoting multiculturalism and the well-being of migrant communities across the region.
In 2019, when Australia was gripped by a devastating outbreak of wildfires, UFS made significant donations to support emergency relief, including $10,000 towards the Victorian Bushfire Disaster Appeal that ravaged their home state.
Other organisations that have been funded by UFS include the Ballarat District Suicide Prevention Network and a community choir that aims to benefit local mental health. The loss of such services was felt on the local landscape when several programmes were forced to come to a halt due to the pandemic.
Responding to the Pandemic
As a component of the sector that is at the very forefront of the pandemic, UFS met the task of adapting to operating under COVID-19 whilst also fighting the virus, admirably.
“We stayed nimble and adapted to the changing conditions. We continued to protect, innovate and grow our business offering in a way that was aligned with our core values and purpose. The establishment of a Commonwealth Government funded COVID-19 respiratory clinic allowed us to respond to the needs and help protect our community.”
In their 2020 report, UFS Dispensaries’ Chairman went on to comment, “Under the astute leadership of our CEO Lynne McLennan, strategies were rapidly put in place to ensure the protection of our staff and customers and to guarantee continual communication across the business was early and frequent. We mobilised employees to work from home and ensured frontline teams were ready to respond.”
In the nascent days of the pandemic, the Australian Commonwealth Government issued a request for general practices to set up and run COVID-19 testing clinics. UFS didn’t disappoint, and soon established a dedicated testing facility in the City of Ballarat’s Community Hub building with government funding.
The safety of both patients and staff remains of paramount importance to the company.
Our people are our strength
True to the charitable values that are at its very foundation, UFS was also quick to respond in the form of financial aid.
In June, the company dedicated a significant portion of their donations to emergency relief services for those in the community most affected by the pandemic.
“The funds were allocated to organisations across all areas where UFS operates. One of the larger donations of $10,000 was to Rural Australians for Refugees Ballarat, who responded to the support we were able to provide.”
“Our response to the pandemic will be recorded as another proud moment in the long history of the organisation”, concludes the organisation’s Chairman.
Two of the principal challenges facing Australia’s health system today are the use of the new technologies and the better use of health data.
Although there is improvement to be done, with the Australian government investing in further medical research and technological innovation, UFS is testament to the efficacy of embracing and incorporating tele-health and digital technology.
The crucial role that they have plaid within the course of the pandemic is ample evidence of this. As CEO Lynne McLennan commented in their annual report, “The new systems, processes and services implemented in response to the pandemic have been highly effective and will now stand us in good stead for the future.”
“In UFS Medical, our GPs and some allied health staff moved quickly to telehealth to ensure that patient attendances in person could be minimised, and those who experienced respiratory symptoms could be provided with appropriate care.”
A Final Word
It comes as little surprise that UFS Dispensaries’ ethical values extend to their concern for the environment. The company adheres to a strong eco-policy to minimise their carbon footprint.
To name a few of the myriad examples of how UFS choose to work in an eco-friendly way, all ten UFS-owned buildings are supplied with solar panels, plastic bags have been phased out across their pharmacies, whilst also offering a safe disposal for unwanted or expired medicines, thereby reducing their impact on the environment.
Last year, the company saved 224 tonnes of CO2 by relying on the 209,343 kilowatt-hours of electricity generated by the solar panels erected across their pharmacies.
UFS Dispensaries Ltd.’s ethical standpoint, community spirit and sustainable approach seems appropriate for our modern context and serves as a worthy example for other industries within the sector.