An aged care home in a remote Western Australian Indigenous community still hasn’t opened seven years after it was built, an embarrassment angry residents blame on past blunders made by government officials.

Key points:

  • Warmun’s aged care home, built in 2014, has never opened
  • Residents were left fuming after operational funding wasn’t provided
  • Millions of dollars now need to be spent to bring the building up to current standards

Warmun’s aged care home opened in 2014 amid a government-funded building spree in response to floods that wiped out the community in 2011.

Its striking design, featuring a raised structure of walkways and stairs, saw the architect win the prestigious Health Award at the 2015 World Architecture Festival.

But while glowing articles in architectural publications gushed about the building’s design, they failed to mention the 12-bed facility lay empty, becoming another one of the Kimberley’s wasted government buildings. 

As champagne flutes were filled at the awards ceremony in Singapore, leaders in the East Kimberley community were fuming at the former Western Australian Barnett government and the commonwealth, for leaving them with a building they could not afford.

‘We trusted people … to do the work’

Image of horses sheltering under the eaves of a disused building in Warmun, Western Australia.

Wild horses shelter under the facility, which now requires millions of taxpayer dollars to ensure it meets current building standards.(

ABC Kimberley: Rebecca Nadge

)

The $12 million aged care home was jointly funded by a state and federal disaster relief grant following the devastating 2011 floods.

WA’s department of finance managed the build and intended for Warmun Community Incorporated to operate the facility.

But that was not what the community wanted, according to current chairperson and Gija woman Madeline Purdie, who managed aged care in Warmun in 2014.

“We wanted a third party to come in to help the community run the facility,” Ms Purdie said.

Despite expectations from community leaders, neither the state nor commonwealth provided ongoing operational funding when the building opened.

This meant high electricity costs and upkeep of the state-of-the-art facility caused major headaches for the town’s leadership.

“It’s not fair on this community that we got left with the [$100,000] insurance bill we pay every year for this big building that’s not being used.”

A federal health department statement said the previous aged care service that was destroyed in the 2011 floods was not funded by the commonwealth, therefore it played no role in funding the new facility.

WA’s department of finance has not said why the state did not stump up operational funding, but the ABC understands it focused on delivering the facility, not what happened afterwards.

Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan told the ABC the former government mishandled the project.

“There were clearly major failures of process when this facility was developed,” she said.

A state government spokesperson said the Warmun community was extensively consulted at each stage of the project’s design.

Commonwealth urged to commit funds

An aerial view of a small town in the outback

Gija elders in the remote community want to spend their final years on country. (

ABC News: Alex McDonald

)

In the years that followed, changes in community leadership and the coronavirus pandemic thwarted efforts to attract an aged care provider.

Another key setback has been changes to the National Construction Code — which means millions of dollars of more work needs to be done before the unused facility can attract an operator.

A department of health spokesperson said rectification work was expected to be “initiated” later this year, after being delayed by further governance changes in Warmun and the pandemic.

The state government is also tipping in $500,000, but Ms MacTiernan said the federal government had not yet provided a firm commitment to fund ongoing operations should the aged care home be opened.

“The state government’s allocation remains on the table to support remediation of the building once a commitment is secured for operations at the facility,” Ms MacTiernan said.

“We need to progress this project and I will be contacting the federal minister’s office directly to move this forward.”

A statement from a commonwealth department of health spokesman said that operational funding would be provided, subject to the building work being completed.

‘There’s so much confusion’

An outback town is cut in half by red dirt floodwaters

Warmun’s aged care home was built three years after floods destroyed the community in 2011.(

ABC News Kimberley

)

A public health policy expert says the state and commonwealth should work together and appoint a single project manager based in Warmun who can consider the views of all parties involved and ensure past mistakes are not repeated.

Stephen Leeder, emeritus professor of public health and community medicine at the University of Sydney, said the facility’s problems could only be fixed through meaningful face-to-face community consultation.

“Taking a long-term view is critical to ensuring there’s adequate resourcing and people are not skimping on utilities and running costs,” he said.

Professor Leeder said the tyranny of distance needed to be overcome.

“The commonwealth and Perth are a long way away, so there needs to be an individual on the ground who is appointed with authority from both who has the respect of the local people,” he said.

Elders want to stay on country

A group of Aboriginal elder women sitting on chairs, speaking to students who sit on the floor in front of them

Warmun’s elders would like to be cared for on Gija country.(

Supplied: Warmun community

)

Community leaders remain desperate to finally open the aged care home so it can achieve its original purpose of ensuring Warmun’s elders can be cared for on Gija country.

“We’re still waiting … we just want the government to help us get it open,” Ms Purdie said.

Anger as award-winning aged care home still not open after 7 years
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