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Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald
Madeline Link

'Disgraceful': Aged care closure leaves family with nowhere to go

Wallsend MP Sonia Hornery outside Wallsend Aged Care facility in 2022 with Colin Brodie and his son Ben (inset). Picture by Marina Neil

COLIN Brodie is hoping for a miracle.

His son Ben suffered a severe brain injury in a car crash about 17 years ago that's left him quadriplegic, non-verbal and in need of round-the-clock care.

For the last 15 years that care has been provided by dedicated staff at Wallsend Aged Care facility, but news it will be shuttered has left the family feeling "manipulated" and "lied to" with nowhere to go.

"Ben's care needs are really high, being quadriplegic, non-verbal, he's nil-by-mouth, he can't swallow properly, he's got a tracheostomy, peg fed, there are absolute mandated requirements in regard to his clinical nursing care," Mr Brodie said.

"They've always been adequately met by Wallsend, but there are none other yet that we have found that will accept that challenge."

Hunter New England Health (HNEH) told families and staff about plans to close the facility, which provides care to 25 residents, on Thursday.

HNEH chief executive Tracey McCosker told the Newcastle Herald the facility in the old hospital building had remained unchanged since it was established more than 30 years ago.

"Updating it to meet contemporary standards for residential aged care poses significant challenges, and it no longer provides the home-like environment our residents deserve," she said.

"In recent years, we've witnessed a steady decline in occupancy as modern alternatives, offering a more homely atmosphere, have gained preference.

"Faced with these challenges, we've made the difficult decision to close Wallsend Aged Care facility."

Mr Brodie and his wife Leonie have spent years looking for another home that could meet Ben's needs, driven by the fear this exact situation would eventuate.

He said they've been forced to go through all sorts of hoops with the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), and were told to find a group home that could provide equivalent care.

Ben and his father Colin Brodie. Picture supplied

Mr Brodie contacted each and every one of them and was told they wouldn't be able to look after Ben.

"We're in this dilemma, the reality is now profoundly self-evident and we are in the lurch, but we're looking for a miracle as Wallsend started out to be, we're looking for a miracle to replace it," he said.

Mr Brodie said that since November 2019, Wallsend Aged Care hasn't allowed any new residents to enter the facility, saying nobody has applied.

"We've known all along that has been a lie, because we know a lot of people who have inquired and been knocked back," he said.

"There's been manipulation for years now, we've been lied to by the bureaucratic upper-level management on the site.

"It is a betrayal of trust, particularly to the staff that have been so wonderfully reliable and dedicated for so long, they've been lied to and it's disgraceful that now they're in a situation where it's been formally declared they will no longer be employed there without having been given a timeframe."

Ben and his dad Colin Brodie. Picture supplied

Mr Brodie said they were told that residents and their families will be individually approached within the next two weeks to start finding alternative arrangements.

Ms McCosker said HNEH would work closely with the 25 residents at the aged care home, their families and caregivers to make the transition into new accommodation as smooth as possible.

"I want to thank the dedicated staff, the backbone of our facility, who have provided unwavering support and care to our residents over the years," she said.

"We're committed to working with each staff member to find alternative employment across our network of facilities."

She said once residents have been moved to new homes, the facility will be repurposed to deliver expanded children's health services.

Wallsend MP Sonia Hornery described the facility as "shamefully neglected" after she found out about plans to close it on Thursday, leaving residents and staff in limbo.

"I'm extremely disappointed that this facility is being closed by the NSW Government," she said.

"As many people would remember, I staunchly opposed the closing of this facility in 2009. I remain opposed to its closure today.

"Wallsend Aged Care has been shamefully neglected by successive governments, thereby justifying its closure in the eyes of Hunter New England Health."

The aged care facility opened in 1993 after the controversial closure of the old state-run hospital.

In 2022, HNEH confirmed the 98-bed aged care facility at the former Wallsend Hospital had more than 60 per cent of its beds available and had not taken a new resident for more than two years.

HNEH said then that it was one of only seven state-funded aged care facilities in the state, with aged care generally a federal responsibility.

At the time, Ms Horney said she was extremely concerned about the under-use of the facility and feared HNEH was setting it up to be privatised or closed.

Ms Hornery said now her concern lies with the residents, their families, the staff employed there and for the future use of the site.

"I want to thank the staff for their utmost care and devotion to the residents," she said.

"A bad word is never spoken about you, I urge you to engage with your union to ensure the best possible outcome for you."

Ms Hornery said she spoke with NSW Health Minister Ryan Park about the closure on Thursday and made her opposition to the decision clear.

Mr Park said the residents deserve high quality facilities that meet new and better standards.

"NSW Health will continue to ensure that all residents and their families are individually supported into alternative and suitable accommodation that best suits their needs," he said.

"Planning is ongoing to determine the mix of children's health services to meet the growing needs of the community."

Both Ms Hornery and Mr Brodie urged members of the public to contact Mr Park and Minister for the Hunter Yasmin Catley's office to share their views.

For Mr Brodie, it's his "last remaining hope".

"We still live in hope this will be overturned, and the only real way that's going to happen is with public reaction," he said.

The Herald has contacted Ms Catley for comment.

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