22 February 2022

Closure of Bombala aged care facility highlights industry's critical issues

| Max O'Driscoll
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Currawarna Residential Aged Care facility

The Currawarna Residential Aged Care facility in Bombala will close. Photo: Southern Cross Care NSW & ACT.

Southern Cross Care NSW & ACT has blamed ongoing staff shortages, a lack of allied health services and insecure General Practitioner (GP) coverage for Bombala’s Currawarna Residential Aged Care closure.

The Currawarna care facility was one of two Southern Cross Care centres in NSW flagged for closure in an announcement on Wednesday, 16 February.

Southern Cross Care NSW & ACT CEO Helen Emmerson said that it is unsustainable to continue asking staff to work double shifts, nor is it a way of luring more permanent staff in the future.

“Our facilities are people’s homes and we believe permanent, well-resourced staff are vital for fostering relationships and supporting people to age with dignity,” Ms Emmerson said.

“As the leader of a not-for-profit aged care provider, the decisions I and the Board make must be solely in the interests of our residents. Sometimes those decisions are very hard and that’s certainly been the case here. But we cannot responsibly continue to assign our limited resources to facilities we have assessed as unsustainable.”

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While she acknowledged that a significant capital investment could bring the facility up to standard, it would remain unviable without more staff.

“Southern Cross Care runs 30 aged care homes across NSW and the ACT. We are experienced at operating in challenging circumstances. But the aged care sector faces serious structural and workforce issues, with most regional homes operating at a loss,” Ms Emmerson said.

“Being a responsible aged care provider in this challenging environment means fronting up to difficult decisions to ensure a sustainable standard of quality care is maintained for our residents.”

There were early fears the closure would force residents and employees elsewhere. Those fears have been somewhat subdued after the local Snowy Monaro Regional Council vowed it would do what it could to help keep them in the region.

The council is planning to schedule meetings with staff and residents of the facility to identify the capacity of other nearby residential aged care facilities. Southern Cross Care intends to do the same.

Mayor Narelle Davis said that the council’s priority is to ensure that there is a viable aged care sector across the entire Snowy Monaro. She has already contacted local Members of Parliament, relevant ministers and agencies to organise a meeting to discuss the underlying issues facing the local industry and work on sustainable solutions moving forward.

The council has already put ideas to State and Federal governments surrounding the potential for regional initiatives like scholarships that increase the staffing numbers within the region.

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In an online statement, Federal Member for Eden Monaro Kristy McBain said that the decision was devastating for the Bombala community.

“Residents have been told they are losing their homes. They don’t know where they are going to live or how their families will be able to visit if they are moved over 100km away. Staff are wondering how they will provide for their families without an income. They too are wondering if they will need to move,” Ms McBain said.

“I am as upset and frustrated, as locals are, that it has come to this. Like most aged care facilities in this country, Currawarna has been let down. The Aged Care sector is in complete crisis and the Government’s response has been abysmal.”

Ms McBain argued that aged care workers are “overworked and undervalued”. She also vowed to ensure that there were options for residents and staff and hoped Currawarna’s residents would not be forced away from the community where they have lived their entire lives.

As it stands, residents occupy 20 of the 33 rooms at the Currawarna care facility. Southern Cross Care NSW & ACT wanted to stress that this is not an immediate closure. They will provide staff and residents with ample time to consider their alternative options. Residents and staff at the Southern Cross Care facility in Harden were given multiple months when that facility was closed in January 2021.

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Andrew Groves8:00 am 27 Mar 22

Kirsty McBain and others are obviously idiots. Blaming government for anything that promotes their political agenda. Southern Cross Care cite staff shortages and lack of Doctors as being the reason for closing this facility. It’s probably a lack of resident’s as well making it not profitable. Not government.

Isabel ROBINSON4:41 pm 22 Feb 22

Another example of the abysmal efforts – or lack thereof – by the state and federal governments. We can all empathise with Andrew Constance’s ptsd arising from the bushfires, as we’d all experienced similar (although not able to similarly go to Sydney for the required health treatment). Sadly that empathy did not seemed to be reciprocated by him before he left the seat of Bega, nor by his party, with health and aged care services struggling in regional communities. Ensuring functioning of regional facilities would surely have been a better expenditure that the non-functioning city transport systems. I hope the constituents of the Federal seat of Gilmore have been paying attention.
An absolute disgrace.

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