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Community ready to fight for rest home

Wharekaka is at risk of closure. PHOTO/COLIN HUTCHINS

Wharekaka wants to cut costs by cutting services. Martinborough residents want a very different outcome. SUE TEODORO reports.

The South Wairarapa community is gearing up to save a rest home in Martinborough after the shock announcement it could close.

With more than one Martinborough family affected, the community have said they would fight to keep services for the elderly in the district.

Headwinds caused by covid made an already tough financial situation worse for Wharekaka Rest Home in Oxford St, as the board announced the cost-cutting proposals this week.

If the changes go ahead, the 20-bed hospital and rest home would close by the end of March. Residential villas onsite would be unaffected.

This meant only one similar facility would remain in South Wairarapa, in Greytown.

The Martinborough Community Board [MCB] issued a statement supporting moves to retain the facility.

“Martinborough Community Board along with the Martinborough community are distraught with the news of the proposed closure of Wharekaka Rest Home and Hospital,” they said.

MCB said it was an issue for the community of Martinborough.

“These are our community elders, an already vulnerable group.

“Martinborough has a proven track record that we can achieve anything in our community and for our community once we are given the opportunity. Our community can rise to challenges and we can certainly overcome this one.”

The Kershaw family were one of those affected, dismayed to discover their elderly mother would not be able to take up her place as planned.

Brothers Richard and Mike Kershaw and their forebears had lived in the Martinborough area for more than 120 years. Their 91-year-old mother, Elizabeth, comes from Hinakura and has lived in Wairarapa her whole life. Her own mother was at Wharekaka for a time.

Already spending two days a week at the facility during the day, she had expected to move in imminently, but must now make different plans.

“Wharekaka and its staff are brilliant. I can’t speak highly enough of them,” Richard said.

“There is an atmosphere there money can’t buy.”

Elizabeth would have benefited from the rest home’s specialist facilities.

“She knows a lot of people in there. Things were well in place and I thought she was going in this week.”

New arrangements would now have to be made at home.

“It’s the only option we have at this stage,” he said.

“It’s an indictment on our society if we can’t look after our elderly. I’m very disappointed it’s come to this. Martinborough is a strong community and I hope a solution can be found.

“A community is made up of everyone from kindergarten to the elderly. We need to look after them all.”

Mike Kershaw said the announcement was another blow for the community’s vulnerable.

“It’s a very sad situation. We have lost two banks in town. To lose this facility is another kick in the teeth for the elderly.

“We don’t want to see our elderly living outside town. Here everyone can see their parents and family easily.

“It’s nice and close. We are going to fight to keep it,” he said.

“This town is growing and there will be a bigger population of elderly in the future. Where will they go if we lose this hospital?”

South Wairarapa mayor Alex Beijen hoped a solution could be found.

“The presence of aged care in the South Wairarapa, especially following the loss of Arbor House assets [in Greytown] recently, is a matter of concern for council, and the well-being of the community.

“Wharekaka Trust have engaged with council on its issues, but the immediacy of the financial issues, along with its independence as a trust, mean council is unable to interfere in its governance .

“We are very willing to engage with the trust in its planning for a future Wharekaka, and hope a modern, resourced and independent facility can rise out of this unfortunate situation in the near future,” he said.

The board of the Wharekaka Trust announced the shock proposal on its website.

“As a direct result of the covid situation, Wharekaka is facing serious challenges to its financial sustainability and the ability to staff appropriately,” it said.

A board member responds
Helen Meehan.

Helen Meehan talks to The Times-Age about the proposal.

Times Age: Is two months enough time to explore options for the facility?

Helen Meehan: We have been exploring options since early November. Up until the covid mandate was put in place and we lost three nurses, we were managing. The mandate proved to be the tipping point.

TA: What options are being considered?

HM: We have been advertising for nurses since we lost our three. There is a nationwide shortage of nurses so it has proved impossible to recruit. This means the safety of our hospital level care residents is compromised. We therefore have no alternative but to propose closure of hospital-level care.

Our villas remain and we are working to keep Meals on Wheels. But we have to have a financially sustainable model. Government policy is to keep elderly people in their own homes as long as possible. This can lead to isolated, lonely elderly people, particularly in a rural community such as ours.

We want to develop services to support these people. Fifty years ago, Wharekaka started out as a day care centre for elderly people. Maybe this is what can be created again.

TA: What advice can you give to South Wairarapa families who were hoping their elderly relatives would be cared for at Wharekaka?

HM: We cannot decide who is cared for in Wharekaka – that is a DHB responsibility.

TA: Where else can people go who could up till now have found a spot at Wharekaka?

HM: Again this is a [DHB] responsibility. There are other residential care services in the Wairarapa and Hutt Valley. Once we have informed [the DHB] that we have to close, they work with our residents to find somewhere for them.

TA: How much money is needed to keep the facility operational?

HM: We consistently lose just under $300,000 per year. This is usually offset by our villas changing ownership. We have always worked on turning over two villas a year. This financial year, there have been no villas sales which will push our deficit to around the $400,000 mark.

TA: How many nurses are needed?

HM: We work on the basis of 42 RN [registered nurse] shifts per fortnight, mainly night shifts.

TA: How many other staff are needed?

HM: Around 30 part-time staff are employed.

TA: Has loss of staff due to the vaccine mandate pushed the board to make this decision?

HM: Yes, and the lack of villa turnover.

TA: What would it take to keep the hospital and rest home facilities operating?

HM: The other challenge we have is an ageing building. Currently the roof is leaking. So the board came to the decision because we are unable to get staff, our building needs a considerable upgrade and the funding shortfall is too large.

TA: What do you think Wharekaka’s problems mean for the future of elder care in South Wairarapa?

HM: Small community residential care homes are closing. We have to work within government policy to see what can be provided for elderly people in their own homes. The model of elder care is required to change and we must change with it.

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