Too little, too late is how some residents of Harden-Murrumburrah are viewing efforts by Hilltops Council Mayor Brian Ingram to call a community meeting to discuss the future of aged care in the NSW twin towns.
But Mayor Ingram insists the meeting is simply designed to give the community a voice and provide insight into the actions being taken to mollify their concerns in the wake of the closure of the St Lawrence Residential Aged Care facility.
And he is inviting all residents to attend the meeting scheduled for Tuesday, 23 February, at 7 pm, at the Mechanics Institute in Neill Street, Harden.
The St Lawrence Residential Aged Care facility closure was announced in late January, with operators Southern Cross Care NSW and ACT (SCC) citing a low demand for beds and a shortage of aged care workers as the reasons for the shutdown.
But as the 35 residents who have been forced to find alternative accommodation leave the 45-bed facility, Mayor Ingram says there is nothing about the situation that is right.
“This is a long way from being a local government issue, but council and Harden Regional Development Corporation have been doing a lot of work behind the scenes to extract information and find solutions,” he said.
“As of this morning, speaking with the deputy prime minister I can tell you there’s not a lot of information out there that I can actually share right now about the closure of the facility. But I am trying to get as many facts together as I can ahead of this meeting.
“If I had called a meeting any earlier there would have been even less to share.”
Mayor Ingram said he couldn’t even determine if the facility is for sale.
“If the facility is not for sale, that tells you a story,” he said. “This is my personal opinion – I don’t believe they will sell it because they will be opening up the opportunity for competition.”
The 45-bed facility is one of three aged care facilities SCC operates in the Hilltops local government area along with facilities in Young and Cootamundra.
SCC provides 185 of the 330 aged care beds in the region.
Mayor Ingram said he understands the frustrations and uncertainty of the Harden-Murrumburrah community.
“Come the time my daughter wants to throw me into a home somewhere, I want somewhere close,” he said.
The mayor’s sympathies lie with the aged care staff losing jobs as well as the vulnerable residents of St Lawrence.
“All they wanted was some security, a bed and a room at that age – it’s very sad,” he said.
Mayor Ingram said the decision on the part of SCC is incomprehensible.
“At Harden, they’ve got the new MPS [multipurpose service] hospital right beside it – it was just magic and then out of the blue, bang, they’re closing,” he said.
“While the decision was made by a private enterprise, it was a calculated decision that will have a significant effect on the local community. Having private organisations that can shut down a facility such as that overnight is disgraceful.”
The announcement of the facility’s closure comes on the eve of the release of the final report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.
“This is just an indication of why this royal commission was needed,” said Mayor Ingram. “This shouldn’t be allowed to happen; there should be a federal body to monitor and intervene in situations like this.”
He added it is important the views of the community are represented at next Tuesday’s meeting, and that a positive outcome allowing for the continuation of aged care in Harden can be reached.
“I hope to see as many residents as possible at the community meeting,” he said.