Lithgow Aged Care faces a crisis after an industry body said they would not renew the centre's accreditation.
On Thursday afternoon, February 11, Lithgow Aged Care was informed by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner that the accreditation of the carer would not be renewed due to 'serious non-compliances'. With the last of those being in mid-January this year, 2021 after an audit.
The decision was made on the basis of 38 non-compliances out of 42 conditions, according to the report. Now it is scrambling to rectify the situation to be able to provide for its residents.
Grave concerns held for residents
Lithgow Aged Care CEO Grahame Danaher - himself only appointed to the role in recent weeks - said he hoped the Lithgow Community would get behind efforts to save the facility.
He said there were major concerns for the 75 residents and 125 staff.
Mr Danaher said urgent inquiries for alternative accommodation had revealed no beds were available in the local area, Blue Mountains or Bathurst and more applications were coming in every day, even during sanctions.
Meantime, due to sanctions, the Lithgow facility has been prevented from accepting residents in a new $3.6 million wing completed last year with more than 30 beds.
"Frail and elderly residents will be forced far away from family support into confusing foreign situations. Our fear is that many would not survive the change," he said.
Mr Danaher also believes the Commission wants to force community nursing homes into corporate ownership with serious consequences for local communities.
"Lithgow Aged Care has a caring and loving staff but the award wages are low compared to the mainstream hospitals.
"Governments provide $1100 per patient per day for public hospitals and $360 per inmate per day in our jails. We get just $200 a day," he said.
"We're were forced to operate on the smell of an oily rag."
Mr Danaher described many issues raised by inspectors as 'pin pricking''.
Black marks have been imposed, he said, for cobwebs and not enough garden furniture.
He said the sanctions that were imposed in August 2019, were lifted in July last year then re-imposed as soon as the new board was elected in November. He too believes Lithgow is being singled out as 'cannon fodder' for the Royal Commission.
Lithgow has until April to work through the dilemma.
Decision is 'unjust'
In his role as Chair of Lithgow Aged Care, Stephen Lesslie issued a statement to residents and staff that said they will appeal the decision.
The statement said the board believes the decision is 'unjust, arbitrary and fails to take into account the improvements that have been put in place since the new board took over in late November 2020.' They are asking that the Commission reverse the decision.
The statement cited a January 2021 audit which Stephen says led the board to submit a self-assessment that will address the issues that were found by the Commission. They say that the board's assessment wasn't properly considered.
Mr Lesslie said at the weekend his feeling was that the bureaucrats wanted to claim ''we're tough guys (in enforcing requirements). Look what we've done at Lithgow".
Shock, confusion and outright anger in the community followed the bureaucratic announcement on Thursday night that the Lithgow Aged Care accreditation would not be renewed in April because of a failure to reach a number of operational benchmarks.
This would effectively shut down both Cooinda and the higher dependency Tanderra with extremely difficult prospects for the 75 residents.
The LAC has been working since late 2019 to address issues of concern raised by inspectors, issues that according to the board are mainly related to documentation.
"We know we do have some more major problems but the Commission has been of no help in resolving them. Support has been nil," Mr Lesslie said.
"We were forced to engage Sydney based consultants at $700 an hour who contributed nothing."
He believes the intention of the Commission is to force all community based aged care facilities like Lithgow Aged Care and Three Tree Lodge and Portland's Coleman House into private ownership.
"They would be filled with residents from North West Sydney who can afford to pay bigger fees and our residents will be squeezed out," he said.
Mr Lesslie said LAC was being denied procedural fairness and in this regard the timeline was significant.
There were inspections in March, July and October last year.
A new board was elected at the annual general meeting in late November and Mr Lesslie was elected chairman.
Since that time there have been seven inspections in seven weeks.
"They have bullied the staff and intimidated the board," Mr Lesslie said.
"We have not been given procedural fairness and it's all been an elaborate farce.
"Everyone knows the Royal Commission is coming down and the Aged Care Commission wants to pre-empt by saying they had made an example of Lithgow."
Andrew Gee weighs in
In the statement issued by Andrew Gee MP, he said he understands the board's frustration at the decision and trusts they are working hard to address the issues found in the audit.
"Everyone in Lithgow knows how important aged care is for our community," he said.
"Everyone also agrees that the safety and care of residents always comes first. Our residents need our support. I have visited Lithgow Aged Care many times and have been lucky enough to meet many deeply compassionate, committed and professional staff who are dedicated to caring for older community members. They also need our support.
He said he understands the Board's frustration.
"I know that the new Board of Lithgow Aged Care has been working hard to try to urgently address issues raised by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner. The Board, which was elected on November 27th, is disappointed that more time wasn't given to address the issues raised. I can understand the Board's disappointment," he said.
"As community we all need to stick together and work through this process in a calm and constructive way to get the best possible result for the residents of Lithgow Aged Care and the community of Lithgow.
"It is my intention to support and work with the residents, staff and Board of Lithgow Aged Care as it navigates through this difficult situation. I will always support and fight for Lithgow residents having first class aged care. We have a brand new facility that is ready to be opened and we need to get it operational for our residents and community."
He also said he has been advised that the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services has no power to alter this decision or extend the time to rectify the non-compliances.
The only avenue left now for the board of Lithgow Aged Care is to apply to the Commissioner for a review within 14 days.
A Sanction or Notice to Agree was applied to Lithgow Aged Care on December 18, 2020 which means the centre is not eligible to receive Commonwealth subsidies for any new care recipients at the service for a period of three months and twenty-nine days. This expires on April 16, 2021.
A meeting was held at noon on Monday afternoon, February 15, the details of which can be found at the Lithgow Mercury website.