14 Feb 2020

Laura Fergusson closure 'the nail in the respite coffin in NZ'

From Checkpoint, 5:22 pm on 14 February 2020

A disability advocate fighting to stop the planned closure of Laura Fergusson Rehabilitation and respite services says she's ready to take the case to court.

Laura Fergusson Rehabilitation offers residential and outpatient care for people living with disabilities and those affected by strokes, brain and spinal injuries.

The charity will close in Auckland, Waikato and Whanganui by August, citing the Ministry of Health's refusal to provide more funding as a core reason for the closure, Checkpoint revealed.

But the Ministry told Checkpoint the trust had not asked for extra money.

"The closure of Laura Fergusson really is just the nail in the respite coffin in New Zealand," disability advocate Jane Carrigan told Lisa Owen.

"The children and the adults that we're talking about are very, very disabled.

"They have multiple disabilities, they have multiple health problems. You can't just chuck them into a home and have a care support worker sit and read their telephone while they're keeping an eye on a person."

"Anyone who has high and very high needs, they need 24/7 [care]. And that is most of these children and these adults.

"Until the day before it closes as far as I'm concerned, it's completely salvageable."

She said Laura Fergusson management are telling parents that they will close even if they are given a bailout.

"If you were offered the money why would you close it?"

Carrigan said she is suspicious that Laura Fergusson's board includes people with roles in property development.

"So, what? The day the last cripple pulls out of the place they'll be moving in their bulldozers? Who knows. But it's utterly cynical as far as I'm concerned."

Carrigan and disability advocates have tried to talk to Laura Fergusson's board, and the Ministry of Health, but said she has had no response.

"Talk to each other and come up with some sort of outcome that actually benefits the people that Laura Fergusson was developed for, is purpose-built for and, frankly, is effectively the property of disabled people… in Auckland.

"That place has served thousands over the years… This place has memories, and it should have a future."

Carrigan said she wants to see Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern intervene.

"She has saved [RNZ Concert]… The Prime Minister has enormous influence. Her constituents are the people who use Laura Fergusson Trust.

"These are the same people who actually can't get out and can't protest.

"And the families who look after some of these more high end children and adults, they can't get out and they can't protest. They are flat out existing, let alone complaining.

Read more: Rehab centre closure worries clients: 'I don't know where I'll go'

"I want the Prime Minister to put herself in these people's shoes. I would beg her here to intervene in this, it just cannot close."

Carrigan said if Laura Fergusson's leaders and the government do not act on the letters that advocates have sent, she will take the case to court.

"There's something that completely stinks about this whole situation… And if ends up in court, then it's going to open a Pandora's box as far as I'm concerned, and that is not necessarily a bad thing."

Read more: Govt denies Laura Fergusson Rehabilitation asked for money