7 March 2022

Bombala community begins mission to save Currawarna Aged Care

| Max O'Driscoll
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Judy Pereira

Judy Pereira is one of the residents who will be forced out after the announcement of the closure of Currawarna Residential Aged Care in Bombala. Photo: Stand with Currawarna.

Helen Dracopolous is of Greek origin and ran Bombala’s Cosmo’s Cafe for decades. Peggy Wilton is a much-loved figure around town who worked at the local tab. Yvonne Murphy came to Bombala from England as a young nurse wanting to explore the world. She went on to work at Bombala Hospital and raised her family locally. Murray Garnock has Parkinson’s disease, and his elderly wife travels for more than half an hour to visit him. This travel time will only grow when his aged care facility closes and he is moved to Cooma.

They all have different stories of how they came to be at the Currawarna Aged Care Facility, but they all share one common belief. They don’t want to leave.

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After Southern Cross Care NSW/ACT recently announced its Bombala facility was closing, patients, staff and the wider community have rallied around the #standwithcurrawarna movement as the community attempts to see the facility saved.

Helen Dracopolous

Helen Dracopolous fed her community for so many years at Cosmo’s Cafe. Photo: Stand with Currawarna.

For many years, Rosie Gillepsie-Jones was a registered nurse at Currawarna but after refusing to be vaccinated, she could not continue working in aged care.

She says she carries a lot of guilt over contributing to the staff shortages that led to the facility’s closure and started the Stand with Currawarna Facebook page as a way of helping the residents that she loved caring for.

“The idea of the Facebook page was to become a point of contact for the community to understand what’s happening and what Currawarna is in essence,” said Ms Gillepsie-Jones.

While acknowledging that it is “really difficult to recruit staff in small regional areas”, Ms Gillepsie-Jones believes Southern Cross Care could have done more.

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“I feel like it’s a bit convenient for Southern Cross to have that comment about understaffing and staff being overworked when they’re the people providing the budget, they’re the people telling us what they can spend on staffing and recruitment,” she said.

“Had the communication gone out to the town and they’d told us that they were desperate for staff or that the facility was at risk of being closed, there’s a lot of people that would have come and worked. We are a real can-do town. If we had known there was a problem, we would have found a solution. But, we were never invited into the problem.

“I wonder if they’d had their eye on this for a little while, maybe a little bit longer than they had said at the meetings.”

Southern Cross Care also announced it was closing its facility in Harden in February 2021. A year later, the Harden community is still waiting for a service provider.

The #standwithcurrawarna group have been in contact with those at Harden and are determined not to let Currawarna endure the same fate.

Ms Gillepsie-Jones said there were some strong similarities between how Southern Cross Care handled the two closures.

“The feedback we got from Harden was that everything was very covert – all very hush hush and almost in the darkness of night people got shipped off to Young,” she said.

“They came to a meeting held by Southern Cross to discuss changes to Southern Cross and they got told the facility was closing. The response from the families when they were dealt that card was just shock. They had no idea it was coming and then basically the next day, they had people from Southern Cross saying where do you want to go, what do you want to do?”

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Ms Gillepsie-Jones said that the residents’ families felt pushed by Southern Cross Care to come up with a plan for their loved ones in a hurry.

So far, Currawarna has received support and sympathy from people at all levels and on both sides of government.

The community now wants action. They believe there are several service providers interested, but their feeling is that they’re waiting for an announcement of government assistance before they commit to the facility.

For now, Currawarna residents remain in limbo.

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