The quiet death of an aged care facility

Medical Republic, 6 July 2023

Members of the Health Services Union fear that the Wallsend aged care facility is being closed down by stealth.

More than two-thirds of the beds at a state-managed Newcastle aged care facility are sitting empty, despite the well-documented increase in demand for permanent residential aged care.

According to the Health Services Union, no new patients have entered the facility for two years.

It’s leading to fears among facility staff that the Hunter New England Local Health District is quietly shutting it down, something which it has reportedly denied to staff.

Several weeks ago, the LHD announced that it would be closing one unit of the facility, consolidating the remaining residents onto one floor of the three-level building.

“It’s absolutely crazy, considering that there are a lot of aged care patients who could be in that unit [but are] in public hospitals,” HSU assistant secretary Lynne Russell told The Medical Republic.

The union held a rally outside the facility today to demand clearer answers from management.

When questioned previously on why so many beds were sitting empty, Ms Russell said, the LHD had blamed workforce pressures.

“But we don’t have any real evidence that says that they are actually actively recruiting or that they’re actually advertising the facility to people who may actually want residential care,” she said.

While the HSU members working at the facility are, understandably, primarily concerned about their job security, Ms Russell said there were also concerns about what will happen to the remaining residents.

The latest data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reveals that NSW has the lowest proportion of residential care services provided by the government (as opposed to private or non-profit operators) out of all the states, at just 2.1% of 72,595 total places.

The number of residential care places offered by government providers in NSW has generally decreased over the last decade, declining from over 1000 places to 772.

As the population ages, demand for residential care has increased.

Between 2012 and 2022, there was a nation-wide decrease in facilities with 60 or fewer places, made up for with an increase in larger-size facilities.

HNELHD did not respond to a request for comment before deadline.