The fate of an aged care home in rural New South Wales is again in limbo, after the federal government declined to fund a not-for-profit provider’s bid to buy and reopen the site.
- St Lawrence Aged Care remains closed after a potential buyer withdraws its interest
- Harden residents are depending on the home reopening
- Regional aged care providers want more federal funds committed to the sector
St Lawrence Residential Aged Care in Harden on the state’s South West Slopes shut unexpectedly early this year, forcing 35 residents, many with dementia, to find a new home.
The operator, Southern Cross Care, blamed staff shortages and a lack of interest in beds for the decision, with all residents moved out in February.
Three months later, Cowra Retirement Village announced it would recommission the 10-year-old site and applied for 45 bed licences.
But its plans relied on it being successful for a $4 million federal grant as part of the Aged Care Approvals Round (ACAR) to purchase the facility.
Chief executive Scott Kable said while the licences had been approved, the contract to buy the site had been withdrawn because it had not secured the grant.
He said grants for aged care were oversubscribed and many facilities in need of support like Harden get left behind.
“I think we had a strong case and there was a lot of merit in our case,” he said.
The Murrumburrah-Harden District Hospital has been allocated four additional residential care places.
A town left gutted
Harden residents, including Councillor Rita O’Connor, said they believed the devastating impact of St Lawrence’s closure meant the grant application would inevitably be approved.
Cr O’Connor said former staff and about 12 residents, including her father, had been waiting for the home to reopen.
In the meantime, she has had to feed, shower and take daily walks with her 87-year-old father, who has dementia.
“It’ll be back to the status quo where I’m running around like a headless chook to look after him,” Cr O’Connor said.
“He really doesn’t remember what I said two minutes ago.”
System under pressure
Southern Cross Care said it would restart the process to find an appropriate organisation to take over the facility.
Helen Emerson, chief executive of Southern Cross Care Care NSW & ACT, said the situation highlighted the “challenging environment regional aged care providers operate in”.
“Cowra Retirement Village were well credentialed to take on St Lawrence, and it is unfortunate the government didn’t make the capital funding available,” she said.
“The St Lawrence site is not being sold to make a profit but to see the facility recommissioned for the benefit of the Harden community.”
In a statement, the Department of Health said applications for the ACAR were highly competitive and $515 million worth of projects had missed out.
It said the funds were prioritised to applicants that “best demonstrated the need/urgency for the works and represented the best value for money”.
Historically, the department said, ACAR capital grants had not been used to fund the purchase of an existing facility, but rather to improve older buildings that did not meet current standards.
Local federal MP Michael McCormack said he would continue to fight to get Harden’s aged care services back up and running.
He said he was also aware of another local offer to purchase the St Lawrence facility.