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Wharekaka: Writing was on the wall

Confirmation of Wharekaka’s permanent resthome closure is a significant blow to Martinborough. Is it the latest victim in a sector starved of funding? MARY ARGUE reports.

It was a “shock closure” to many in the community. However, the inevitable outcome was obvious long before Wharekaka closed its resthome doors.
At a recent annual general meeting, the board confirmed the doors would remain shut – upsetting news to many holding out hope for a change in its fortune. The board said the 20-bed resthome was no longer financially viable.
Wharekaka’s 12 villas remain, but with the closure of Arbor House in 2019, South Wairarapa boasts only 32 resthome beds at Greytown’s Palliser House.
The ending was swift for Martinborough’s resthome, with the board proposing closure in January and the doors shutting in March, by which time all 13 residents had been rehomed.
However, Wharekaka Trust Board chair Joy Cooper said the rapid turn of events came after years of financial hardship, with the organisation reporting ever-increasing deficits year-on-year.
“Most years, there was a significant deficit in the tens of thousands that would be covered by donations or grants.
“Now and again, a villa would change hands, and it would be just in time.”
She said the financial model of relying on villa turnover was unsustainable, with government support falling well behind increasing rates and operational costs.
“The index of aged-care costs was going up 10 – 12 per cent, but government funding was only going up about 3 per cent.
“That was the situation.”

Wharekaka has received extra funding from SWDC

Cooper said Wharekaka managed for years by running down its $400,000 “rainy day fund” and deferring much-needed maintenance, but covid came, and it was the nail in the coffin.
“By November [2021], we had serious workforce issues following the loss of staff due to the covid mandate introduced that month.
“We were losing money every month and then there was the staff shortages, they were the killer.”
In last month’s annual meeting, treasurer John Errington said without the District Health Board’s contribution and a $47,000 grant, the year’s loss would have been double – $280,000 as opposed to $138,748.
Cooper said the board had recently explored options for Wharekaka’s future, and “with great sadness” decided reopening residential care was impossible.
She said, however, Wharekaka’s fate should be viewed in the context of a sector starved of resources, which was felt more acutely in rural areas.
“The current funding model is insufficient. Only the large ones can keep going.
“The general rule is four villas to support one resthome bed, meaning Wharekaka would need 80 villas.
“It’s very hard, but we are seeing the corporatisation of aged care.”
In response to questions about aged-care being “hamstrung” by government funding, Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty said he was aware of Wharekaka’s concerns.
“I have passed on this concern to my cabinet colleagues, and I know the Minister of Health is aware.”
Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said the closure of any resthome was unfortunate.
She said the funding was based on the level of care provided.
“With facilities receiving the same approximate funding based on the number of residents they care for no matter if they are small or large. The funding is set per resident.”
Additionally, Verrall said this year’s funding for the sector had increased by 5.5 per cent, and programmes were underway to review the “sustainability of funding for rural facilities which operate in a different fiscal environment”.
Cooper said she was pleased to hear the government was investigating the issues.
“If you live in Martinborough and you are 80, and your spouse has to go into care, you have to go to Masterton, or Carterton.
“There needs to be special arrangements for rural facilities because even if we had 50 beds, we wouldn’t be able to fill them. The population is just not big enough.”
She said the board was currently exploring options for the future of the empty buildings on Oxford St, which it would present to the public in the next month.

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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