25 July 2023

Long council debate ends with green light for staged closure of Yallambee Lodge

| Gail Eastaway
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aged-care centre

Despite community outrage, Snowy Monaro Regional Council has voted to divest itself of its Yallambee Lodge aged-care facility, handing over its operation to Respect Aged Care. Photo: Gail Eastaway.

Snowy Monaro Regional Council debated a proposal to divest itself of the Yallambee Hostel aged-care facility for nearly two hours at its 20 July meeting.

Yallambee Lodge gained notoriety in May when one of its residents, Clare Nowland, died a week after allegedly being tasered by a police officer.

Her death is now at the centre of serious criminal charges laid against the police officer involved.

On 13 July, the council announced it would table staff recommendations to begin the process of finalising divestment of both of the council’s aged-care facilities – Yallambee Lodge in Cooma and Snowy River Hostel in Berridale.

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The announcement created considerable concern and anger among the local community, mainly due to a perceived lack of community consultation.

Both facilities had been at least partially funded by public contributions in the 1980s, and the community therefore had a strong connection to them.

The council had been working with aged-care provider Sapphire Coast Community Aged Care (SCCAC) with a view that SCCAC would eventually take over the operations, but that arrangement had fallen through recently.

Staff recommended Yallambee Lodge be transferred to a new provider, Respect Aged Care, which would integrate the existing centre residents, service and staff into its Cooma operation at Hudson House (formerly known as Sir William Hudson Memorial Centre and acquired by Respect in March this year).

After a transition period of about two years, during which time Hudson House will undergo expansion and renovation, Yallambee Lodge is expected to close.

The council debate on the matter included concerns about the cost to the council of gifting Yallambee to Respect and by doing so, relinquishing any control over the future of the land.

Several councillors requested that part of the recommendations be deferred for a month to enable Respect’s CEO or general manager to meet the council and the community to allay any community concerns about the decision.

Jindabyne’s Cr Louise Frolich questioned whether the deal would simply allow Respect to take advantage of high land prices to sell off the land.

Other suggestions were that the council retain ownership of the property and lease it to Respect for a peppercorn rental for a set period.

Cr Bob Stewart was concerned the council had not allowed the community enough time to absorb the ramifications of the proposal and little time to comment.

Cr Luke Williamson said the amount of the transaction, more than $5.5 million, had left him a little queasy as he had had little time to complete due diligence.

Mayor Narelle Davis supported the recommendation, saying that changes to aged-care regulations had seriously impacted the viability of any regional facilities. She said the council continuing to operate Yallambee Lodge was “just not sustainable”.

After protracted debate, the motion was carried, with Crs Johnson, Williamson, Hanna, Frolich and Hopkins voting against it.

It signals the end of three years of debate and consultation by the council into the divestment of its aged-care services.

The motion read:

”B. Commence the staged closure of Yallambee Lodge by transferring the assets, land and operation of Yallambee Lodge to Respect Aged Care to enable investment into the Hudson House;

C. Approve the transfer of the Yallambee Lodge assets and land to Respect Aged Care to enable investment into the Hudson House on the grounds that the assets and land cannot be sold at a future date until renovations and extensions to 90 beds at the Hudson House are completed;

D. Negotiate a payment within the available Yallambee Lodge budget to Respect Aged Care to cover operating costs of Yallambee Lodge;

E. Acknowledge that once Respect Aged Care have completed renovations and extensions to 90 beds at the Hudson House, Yallambee Lodge may be closed and sold, but that will be a decision of Respect Aged Care.

F. Advise the federal Department of Health that Council will not proceed with construction of a memory support unit, and request that the funding be transferred to Respect Aged Care (with the exception of the fire compliance component) as an investment into constructing memory support facilities at the Hudson House and adjust Council’s 2023/24 DP/OP and budget accordingly.”

A second contentious recommendation concerning the divestment of the 14-bed Snowy River Hostel at Berridale was deferred to allow community consultation.

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Berridale local Cheryl Mould gave a detailed presentation to the council, protesting against the proposal and highlighting the lack of community consultation in the previous week.

This recommendation was that the council close the facility once all residents had relocated to a new one, noting that residents have the security of tenure that makes the closure timetable dependent on existing residents’ decisions.

Staff also recommended that the council seek expressions of interest for future use of the facility and the adjacent vacant land, with a strong preference for a community-focused enterprise, such as affordable housing.

The council advised it had not been able to identify an operator willing to run Snowy River Hostel.

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