Australia’s regional aged care facilities at risk of closing

A great love story was born 65 years ago, the day Lance Puckeridge laid eyes on Merle.

“We walked around and got a burger and a milkshake, they must have put something in the milkshake,” Mr Puckeridge said. A topical matter.

They had to, because to this day, Mr. Puckeridge still cannot live without Mrs. Puckeridge, though sadly he must now.

Lance Puckeridge. (A current affair)

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After caring for his wife for 20 years, Ms Puckeridge moved into a care home 18 months ago.

She suffers from dementia.

“She won’t know me soon, but give her some dignity,” Mr Puckeridge said.

Lance Puckeridge and Merle. (A current affair)

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Ms Puckeridge is one of 32 residents of McCauley Lodge near Wollongong, who have been told to find a new home.

The establishment closes in August.

“The old people were completely torn to pieces, they were terrified, they started crying,” Mr Puckeridge said.

Zoe Van Akker. (A current affair)

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Zoe Van Akker was notified of the closure via email, having only moved her mother Marie to McCauley Lodge in September.

“I was aware that there might be a proposed development request. I never felt like there would be a closure,” Ms Van Akker said.

Marie has advanced dementia.

“I would say my mum is on her last chapter. I can’t help but plan in case she’s still with us,” Ms Van Akker said.

It appears residents and their loved ones have been given different reasons why the charity Fresh Hope Care wants to close the care home.

Zoe Van Akker and her mother Marie. (A current affair)

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‘Residents have petitioned the area and they don’t want a retirement home there and the council has rezoned it to be residential only,’ Mr Puckeridge said.

Mrs Van Akker was informed that the building no longer complied with safety standards.

“Pretty minor changes could be made to this building to bring it up to standard,” Ms Van Akker said.

Fresh Hope Care says A topical matterSince the Royal Commission on Aged Care, the regulator has tightened industry standards.

In a statement, he said the current position of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission and the response required by the Fresh Hope Care team to combat COVID-19 in its facilities across the State of New South Wales, all led to the closure of McCauley Lodge.

It comes without a firm plan for residential care services in Thirroul in the future.

Fresh Hope Care, McCauley Lodge. (A current affair)

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Aged care homes across Australia are now closing at an alarming rate.

Since the middle of last year, 24 have already closed – double the number of the previous year.

Nine other nursing homes have given elderly residents a deadline to come out.

Nearly 25% of closures are in regional areas, like McCauley Lodge, where it’s so much harder for residents to find a new home.

Ian Yates, CEO of the Council On The Aging, said tougher regulation was needed, but the transition needed to be better managed.

“The government needs to have a strategy, where, for example, they can take over a house and they can secure continued occupancy and find suppliers who will come in and perform better,” Yates said.

Ian Yates is the CEO of the Council on Aging. (A current affair)

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“We cannot see services disappearing, especially in rural areas where they are badly needed.”

Sudden closures leave many loved ones scrambling.

“I would love to take her home, but I can’t because I know she wouldn’t get the care she should,” Mr Puckeridge said.

Ms Van Akker said we are all responsible for fixing the aged care sector.

“Take a look at the system and see if it needs improvement,” Ms. Van Akker said.

“Because at some point it’s going to be a loved one, or it’s going to be you who are in that system, so I think Australia can do better.”

Statement from Fresh Hope Care:

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Fresh Hope Care is saddened by what it sees as its obligation to close the residential care service McCauley Lodge located on Tasman Court in Thirroul on August 21, 2022. McCauley Lodge is a service that Fresh Hope Care has been most proud of since 1971. With over 50 years of history and service to the community of Thirroul, this was a difficult decision to make and to communicate to a local community that we have been part of for so long.

It is entirely Fresh Hope Care’s decision to close the McCauley Lodge residential care service. No agency or regulatory authority has ordered Fresh Hope Care to close.

The increased risk of operating McCauley Lodge given the age of the building (over 70 years), the standards to which it was originally built, the layout and design, the levels of staff required to provide the high level of care that Fresh Hope Care (given the design, issues with the building, and the number of residents we are able to support) have all contributed to the need to close the service. Fresh Hope Care cannot operate the McCauley Lodge residential care service given these issues and the risk they will pose to our residents, staff and wider Fresh Hope Care organization.

The impact of COVID on the entire aged care sector, but particularly small regional residential care services with small staff teams and resources, has been part of this increased risk and cost and contributed to McCauley Lodges’ large operating deficit. This deficit alone is not the driving reason for the closure of services – it is, however, a contributing factor to the closure.

Fresh Hope Care intended to announce plans for a new residential care facility at this time. Unfortunately, the requirement to close residential care service McCauley Lodge has also been accelerated by factors that impact the entire aged care sector. These include the implementation of the Royal Commission’s recommendations, the current position of the Commission on Quality and Safety in Care for the Aged, and the response required by the Fresh Hope Care team to tackle COVID in its facilities across the state of NSW have all led to the closure of McCauley Lodge with no firm plan for residential care services in Thirroul in the future. At this time, Fresh Hope Care’s ability to receive approval to build a sustainable residential care facility on the McCauley Lodge site is unlikely.

Fresh Hope Care has worked and will continue to work with all of our residents and families to ensure they have access to accommodation options before McCauley Lodge closes on August 21, 2022.

We have found positions for a number of residents with nearby residential care providers and continue to work with residents and their families to seek out future locations that meet each resident’s individual care needs. Fresh Hope Care may also report that a number of residents are on waiting lists for their preferred provider based on their care needs 2 and their choices regarding their future home and future care. A number of residents have also accepted housing through other Fresh Hope Care services.

Fresh Hope Care is supporting our McCauley Lodge staff through this transition by providing employment opportunities at other Fresh Hope Care sites and assisting them with their job applications with other providers. We also have a confidential Employee Assistance Program provider, which provides a free professional counseling service to our employees and their family members to further support their well-being at this time.

McCauley Lodge continues to be a site that Fresh Hope Care wishes to use for residential aged care services in the future. This has been planned for almost 2 years and has been communicated to the local community, residents and families. Fresh Hope Care’s plan has always been to build a residential care service to replace McCauley Lodge; one that is of a size and scale that is sustainable to provide such services. For Fresh Hope Care, this was a size of approximately 65, which allows for a durable list and supportive framework.

The progress of the new service is as follows:

  • Recent changes to state environmental planning policy make such approval increasingly unlikely. Wollongong City Council‘s position in combined pre-DA meetings with local community groups has not been positive or supportive.
  • Fresh Hope Care consultants continued to have these discussions, but indicated that Fresh Hope Care’s chances of success are low.
  • If Fresh Hope Care is unable to obtain approval or support from a sustainable aged care facility, Fresh Hope Care will seek to provide accessible independent living units and partner with a local provider home care services for these independent living units.
  • This would continue to provide Fresh Hope Care operations within the Thirroul community
  • There are no restrictions on the use of the McCauley Lodge property which is owned by the Churches of Christ Property Trust for the benefit of Fresh Hope Care.

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