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Rest home closure shakes town

Wharekaka Rest Home. PHOTO/FILE

The closure of the Wharekaka rest home in Martinborough has had impacts far beyond the facility itself. SUE TEODORO spoke to two of those affected.

Wharekaka Rest Home in the middle of Martinborough closed its doors at the end of March, with the last 13 residents moving out. A further 13 remain in self-contained adjacent independent villas.

While those directly affected have found new accommodation, the villa residents were not directly impacted and remain in their homes.

Lorraine Little with puppy Tane. PHOTO/SUE TEODORO

Lorraine Little has lived in Martinborough for the past 24 years, more than two of those in one of the villas. The 12 villas near the main Wharekaka buildings form a small but connected neighbourhood.

Little’s home is compact and cosy, with a well-stocked garden, sophisticated cat, and boisterous six-month-old puppy called Tane.

With its open-plan design, it is light-filled and modern. Most of the town amenities are just a stone’s throw from Martinborough’s central square.

While Little was not affected directly by the closure, she said the decision came as a shock.

“We knew things were tough, and we were called over to a meeting. We were told what was happening, and I think we were all like stunned mullets,” she said.

“It’s desperately sad.

“You don’t make a decision to go into a home lightly. To think that your permanent home is no longer adds to the stresses for those folks.”

“It’s heartbreaking. I’ve had no plans to go into care at any stage, but none of us know what is ahead.”

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She said some of the villa residents would have expected to go to the rest home in time and had regularly taken part in other things at the facility.

“Some had meals delivered, and you were always welcome to join in the activities.”

The facility had organised exercise classes, tai chi, music, and outings for residents and others.

“Some will be missing that,” she said.

“The first weekend after it closed was horrible. It’s hard. There certainly has been heartache in the town for people who were planning to come in.

“It brings fear as well. For some, there will be no other option for where to go. You’ve got to think about going out of town, and nobody’s finding it easy.

“People prefer to be in their own homes if they are fit enough, but what do you do if you aren’t?”

Little hoped a similar facility would come back to the town in time.

Catherine Cox was one Wharekaka resident who was forced to move out of Martinborough by the closure.

Ninety-year-old Cox has dementia and has now moved to Masterton.

Her son Glen described the difficulties faced by his mother.

Glen and his wife moved back to Martinborough from overseas eight years ago to be closer to their ageing relations.

Both his parents had moved to Wharekaka, but his mother was subsequently diagnosed with dementia, and his father sadly became ill and passed away.

“We were glad to have our parents able to move to Wharekaka. It’s one of a small and diminishing number of community-based rest homes in New Zealand,” he said.

“It was a difficult time for both our parents. Being able to move into hospital-level care was critically important.”

After Catherine was diagnosed with dementia, she moved to Masterton but returned to the Martinborough facility at the start of the lockdowns when she broke her hip in 2020.

“We found out about three months ago she would have to move again,” he said.

Glen described how hard it was to find a new home for Catherine.

“It took about three weeks of constant telephoning and visiting facilities to find her a place. I was constantly told there were no beds available, but by chance managed to get her a place in Masterton.

“I was on the phone every day until we found a place.”

He hoped his mother could stay in her present home longer but said the situation had taken a toll on her.

“The change has knocked her back. For the first few weeks, she was very disoriented. There is no doubt at all the process has distressed her. The atmosphere at Wharekaka before the move also affected her,” he said.

“To take someone with dementia and change their environment is very difficult.”
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He stressed Wharekaka itself was not to blame but said the situation raised broader public policy questions

“We have known Wharekaka was challenged financially. We know they lost nurses because of the mandates, and we know how impossible it is to find the right people. At some point, you have to acknowledge the inevitable and deal with it,” he said.

“As a society, there are questions to be answered that are important to everybody. What depth and breadth of local services are we willing to fund through our taxes?”

Wharekaka trust board chairwoman Joy Cooper acknowledged the distress the closure had caused for residents, staff, and families. She said the board was pleased all residents found placements in Wairarapa facilities. One resident had returned to live in the community.

“For our staff, this has been an especially sad time. There were many tears as residents left,” she said.

“While the loss of residential care is a huge blow for everyone, we are determined Wharekaka will develop new services to support the older people of South Wairarapa,” she said.

“I am confident these will develop over the coming months.”

Community feedback had consistently supported maintaining meals on wheels, daytime activities, and more accommodation options for independent living.

Cooper was proud meals on wheels had continued seamlessly, with Wharekaka auxiliary now running it. Ideas for relevant volunteer-run social and activity sessions for locals were being explored.

She said facility and site development options were also being considered but were some months away.

“By the end of 2022, we hope we will have a detailed and costed plan to share with the community for their input.”

Cooper said ongoing community support would be important.

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