13 Oct 2020

Parents say Trust for the disabled was deliberately run down

10:41 am on 13 October 2020

Parents whose children were cared for at a purpose-built disability centre in Auckland say there appears to have been a deliberate attempt to run down the site.

Laura Fergusson Rehabilitation's Greenlane centre in Auckland.

Laura Fergusson Rehabilitation's Greenlane centre in Auckland. Photo: RNZ

The Laura Fergusson Rehabilitation in Greenlane closed in August, with its board blaming financial problems.

Now the Charities Services is investigating complaints about the way it has been run.

For 27 years, Josephine Cliff's son lived at Laura Fergusson.

She says over the last five years, she witnessed the decline of services for residents like her son.

"The maintenance, I mean just never appeared to be done. There was sort of rotten walls, buildings. My son's door fell off, a sort of french door thing just collapsed. There was no maintenance I could see going on at all," she said.

Instead the trust appeared to turn its attention to rehabilitation, opening up the gym and hydrotherapy pool for others to use, she said.

Laura Fergusson Rehabilitation's Greenlane centre.

Laura Fergusson Rehabilitation's Greenlane centre. Photo: RNZ

Billy Brookland's son Blake relies on weekly respite at Laura Fergusson - which since the trust's closure has been picked up by another agency Spectrum Care.

He's a professional painter, and worried by the state of the building his son was staying in last year he offered to paint the villa for free.

"It was just in bad condition. It was clean, obviously, but all the paint work was chipping off and it just needed to be tidied up, and some new floor coverings and such-like. It wasn't much. Exterior wise it probably needed a few boards taken out and maybe burnt off a bit of the old paint.

"But it was all salvageable."

He said while the trust initially appeared keen, they kept making excuses.

"I kept asking them and it got pushed out, pushed out, pushed out. And then they said they were going for a grant. I offered in June, and they were trying to go for a grant in September of last year."

In hindsight he said the trust never intended to apply for a grant.

"This has been premeditated - all this. It has to be, because why would you let all your buildings run down?" he asked.

In a statement the Ministry of Health says until its closure the trust was doing the required maintenance on the Greenlane site, and its last audit in 2018 identified no problems with the state of its buildings. It was due to undergo its latest audit in August - the same month the Greenlane site closed.

What's worried supporters of the site is the code of silence around the trust's future plans for it.

Josephine Cliff says while her son is now in better accommodation, she's frustrated at management's total lack of communication with parents.

In July she wrote to board chairman Chris O'Brien telling him so.

"I was told when I took my letter in by hand to the CEO, she actually came out and I said to her, I'd written a letter and here it is for the chairman of the board, wherever he hangs out now, and she said we were gagged, we were not allowed to speak to you because the Ministry of Health gagged us," she said.

The Ministry of Health denies it gagged the trust.

Cliff said when she eventually got a reply, it said the funding wasn't enough to continue, even though other providers are still operating, she said.

Former board member John Wolk, an amputee, has also used the organisation's services. He says when the closure was announced last year he was told a plan would be released early this year.

"Well we're at the end of that new year now, and no plan has been introduced to us at any time.

"Before the end of the year we're meant to have an AGM, and there's no knowledge about whether that's going to happen or when that's going to happen. Just to close us off and not to tell us anything and carry on through the process, I think is pretty poor form," he said.

John Wolk was born with spina bifida, is an amputee, and has had help from Laura Fergusson Rehabilitation.

Former board member John Wolk was born with spina bifida, is an amputee, and has had help from Laura Fergusson Rehabilitation. Photo: RNZ

In a bid to save the trust, supporters have attempted to sign up. The board says it will consider these applications at a meeting on 22 October.

But in an unusual move it has written to prospective members demanding to know why they deposited their membership fee into the trust's account, where they got the account number from and asking them to fill out a questionnaire.

Yet its donation page, which included the trust's account details and instructions for would-be members to include their name as a reference, was on the trust's website until last week.

A Google cache of the Laura Fergusson Trust website showed the site displayed their account a week ago.

A Google cache of the Laura Fergusson Trust website showed the site displayed their account details a week ago. Photo: Google

The Charities Services is now investigating the trust - after four complaints about its governance and membership process.

The Service is not giving further details, and the trust has again declined to comment.

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