The community of Bulahdelah is furious at the abrupt closure planned for their Aged Care Home, Cedar Wharf Lodge, at the end of May by Anglican Care.
As much as the upheaval and distress the sudden plan is causing residents, relatives and staff, is the fact the community raised a large portion of the money to build the Aged Care Home in the first place.
Donations came from practically every resident to match the amount needed over and above what the government had allocated for the building. Close to $500,000 was raised from one of the poorest towns in the state and the Great Lakes Nursing Home opened in town in 1992. (It was later named Cedar Wharf Lodge when Anglican Care took over.)
Most residents are local, as is the staff.
But in more recent times the Home has become outdated with four beds sharing a single bathroom.
In 2017, the Home, while clean and tidy with caring staff, needed to be updated and to fill its 50 beds. So when Anglican Care offered to take it over, the Community Board which ran the Home was relieved and agreed. And in a deal which now many shake their head at, it was sold for a gold coin to the Church.
But the Cedar Wharf Lodge was not updated or refurbished. And in the last few years, little changed or was improved, despite needing a refit.
Nonetheless it came as a severe shock when Anglican Care announced in March that they were closing the Home and residents and families were told they had until the end of May to find other places. The reason for selling was that the Home was in debt with accumulated losses of 1.2 million dollars.
A community meeting was called in the middle of March with the Archbishop of Newcastle, Dr Peter Stuart, Federal MP Dr David Gillespie, MCC Mayor Clare Pontin, and the Board Manager of the Home attending. Also present was Mr Ireland who was on the original community board before the Home was sold to Anglican Care Australia.
Around 1000 locals came along and didn’t like what they heard. Nor were many happy with the attitude of the Bishop whom many felt was more focussed on financials than the future of the residents. The community still doesn’t know what Anglican Care plan, to do – sell or redevelop.
Families are distressed their loved ones will be a minimum of 45 minutes drive away at best, which is a massive inconvenience for elderly drivers and working families.
The residents of the Home are also distressed.
Said Bulahdelah local, Julie Smee, ‘I know of one elderly male resident in the Home who was 99 and said he wouldn’t move. He put his head on the pillow and just died.’
There are other meetings in the area planned, but added Mrs Smee, ‘Judging from the Bishop’s attitude, he won’t change his mind. We are all disappointed at this and the need for better medical facilities locally.’
Greens Senate candidate Karl Attenborough who attended the meeting is shocked and says the Greens want the Government to allocate at least 6 billion dollars for Aged Care. (By taxing billionaires and corporations who currently pay little or no tax.)
“My concerns regarding this matter are, that despite the recent findings and recommendations of the Aged Care Royal Commission, aged care residents and workers are still suffering. Quality Aged Care should be based on individual needs and not the ability to pay or where one lives,” he added.
Labor candidate Alex Simpson is also appalled at the unexpected closure of the Aged Care Home and has pledged to make a difference here as well as get Manning Base Hospital funded and improved. The closing of Cedar Wharf Lodge will have significant impacts on this community. Not only will residents be without a nursing home, but the important link between residents and their friends and family in the Bulahdelah community will be torn. Staff will also be left without a job, and other health services will inevitably have to cover the shortfall in care. The care economy is central to this community’s wellbeing, and this region’s growth. Labor is pledging significant support to aged care, after nine years of a government missing in action.
At the conclusion of an unsatisfactory meeting, locals grumbled that the Anglican Church seem more focussed on money than people to “pay off the Church’s debt”. And that much as the community was disappointed in the neglect by the Nationals, they were afraid that the two sawmills in the area might be closed down, causing severe unemployment.
This is typical of our rural towns, who need to be convinced that there are more job opportunities with renewables and the race to re-tool for a sustainable and environmentally focused future.
The fear many have is that the Home will be sold to developers and “flash units or a fancy lifestyle home will go in there, when it’s ours!’ Appeals and contact made to the Minister for Aged Care Richard Colbeck went unanswered.
A gesture at the end of the meeting summed things up when a woman bent down and put a gold coin in front of the Bishop asking “Now we’re square, please give us back our land and building.”
Her offer is still open.