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Wharekaka eyes up merger

It’s been a gruelling year, financially and emotionally, for Wharekaka’s board and residents, but the future of the retirement facility, long hanging in the balance, looks to be secured. MARY ARGUE reports.

For the past year, Wharekaka has been staring down the barrel of permanent closure, not only for its rest home-level care, which shut in March, but its 12 supported villas.

With funds expected to be depleted in February, Wharekaka’s Trust Board was scrambling to find a solution.

Recently, board chair Joy Cooper, announced the facility had found a saviour.

After an Extraordinary General Meeting and public consultation last month, the decision was made to pursue a merger with Masonic Villages Trust, well known in the region for its villas and aged-care facility in Masterton.

It’s a decision that has been positively received by Wharekaka’s current villa residents.

One resident admitted there were few options on the table but said it was “marvellous” that Wharekaka was pursuing the merger.

Her neighbours were equally optimistic about the development and hoped it would signal the return of activity and community to the site.

“It was so sad when they had to close [the rest home facility].

“A lot of them were local people, and they had to be shifted out. Now there is just a black hole there, it’s awful.

“It was lively when we first arrived, but it’s changed a lot in the past couple of years.”

In a presentation to Wharekaka stakeholders on November 23, the board outlined the good, the bad, and the ugly of its current financial situation.

It said Wharekaka had no prospect of reopening its rest home facility, citing an annual $200,000 funding gap and significant maintenance costs for the building.

While there was a waiting list for its 12 occupied villas, it was also contending with an annual deficit of around $120,000, offset by $60k in donations and grants.

Wharekaka would “run out of money in February 2023”.

With the disappearance of its 20 rest home beds, the board said its vision now included a supportive environment for its remaining villa residents, providing meals on wheels in South Wairarapa and developing Wharekaka as a community hub for older people.

It said over the past few months, it had considered multiple options to secure its future, including selling parcels of land, selling the facility to a commercial rest home entity, and merging with or gifting the facility to another charity.

Time constraints and conflict with the Trust’s deeds objectives saw all options but ‘go it alone’ and a merger with a charitable entity left on the table.

However, the board said ‘go it alone’, came with significant risks, notably that borrowing money to expand was not immediately accessible.

“Survival is dependent on building more units. We have land for at least three more duplexes and a waiting list for villas.”

The board said more than $700,000 would be needed to finance the expansion, and in the meantime, it would need to cover the operating expenditure shortfall.

“We will not be able to decide to go it alone unless we have received firm offers of donations or loans totalling $150k by December 1.”

Cooper said ultimately, all feedback from about 40 members was unanimously in favour of pursuing a merger with Masonic Villages Trust.

“It’s a huge relief. There are still details to work through, but it’s looking positive.”

She said despite the Wharekaka Trust Board dissolving with a merger, the Auxiliary and other Wharekaka supporters, particularly the volunteer deliverers of meals on wheels, would be instrumental in supporting the facility in Martinborough under the Masonic umbrella.

Masonic Villages Trust chair Warick Dunn said with the February deadline looming, the trusts had been working closely together to “expedite the process” of a merger.

“It’s been some months, they obviously had other options, but we are very pleased with the decision.”

Dunn said the Masonic Trust, more than 60 years old, had a long association in Wairarapa with its Masterton village.

“We know this area very well, and over the last 10 years, we have progressively expanded to the stage where we are the largest not-for-profit retirement village in New Zealand.

“Regrettably, the issue of funding for aged care is one where successive governments have failed to keep pace with costs.

“Compliance has become progressively more onerous, and scale has become really important to deliver consistent care.”

Dunn said Wharekaka had a fabulous reputation and the capacity to expand.

He said the priority would be to establish relationships with existing residents before canvassing options to develop more supported living villas.

“The Trust Board has taken a very difficult decision. It is not easy when running a Trust for years to face the reality of passing that responsibility on to someone else.

“We think we have an opportunity to honour Wharekaka’s tradition and mission.”

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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