Future of Auckland disability rehabilitation provider Laura Fergusson Trust uncertain

11:48 am on 16 December 2020

An embattled society is promising to keep helping people who are disabled even as it moves to sell off its specialist rehabilitation centre.

Laura Fergusson Rehabilitation's Greenlane centre in Auckland.

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

University of Auckland health specialist Des Gorman has backed the change, saying the Laura Fergusson Trust simply cannot afford to keep running because government funding for its services is too low.

But sceptics worry the board is operating under a veil of secrecy and say if the trust's site is sold it will leave disabled people in Auckland with nowhere to go.

The Laura Fergusson Trust has been providing rehabilitation therapies for disabled people since 1970.

But in August it closed its Greenlane rehabilitation centre and now it is moving to sell it.

Gorman, an expert in health system design and funding, has been working with the trust.

He said it can not afford to keep providing services the public system doesn't offer.

"If I look at the other rehabilitation providers I know who are on a substantive scale, they're all saying the same thing," Gorman said.

"They all have the same frustrations and they all have the same fundamental gripe with the funding agencies, which is an inability to understand that the funding model needs to have the ability to reinvest and grow."

But not everyone is sympathetic.

Victoria Carter has been campaigning to save the current site.

The board should have worked harder to publicise its funding woes and get help, she said.

"In fact, you could argue that they've gone out of their way to be secretive. They've actively rejected countless quality people as members, including disabled people, who are stakeholders," Carter said.

"The directors have refused to release the half a million dollar PriceWaterhouse(Coopers) report. There's just too much secrecy."

The board should have tried to raise money from other sources, she said.

"If the Laura Fergusson Board and its directors were a little bit more open-minded, they might have actually bought on some younger, more energetic, enthusiastic directors, who could have helped really lobby ACC, Kainga Ora, the District Health Board.

"It doesn't seem to me that they're doing those sort of proactive things to make sure that the buildings that those founding mothers created, remain."

Carter was also critical of the trust's spending.

Annual accounts show it paid board chairperson Chris O'Brien $45,000 for consultancy services in the most recent financial year.

That's on top of the $94,000 he took home the year before.

In a letter to members, the board said O'Brien only reluctantly agreed to work for the trust as a property consultant.

It added he was uniquely qualified to do the work.

Retired forensic accountant Denis Lane is a supporter of the trust and has looked over the accounts.

Denis Lane, a retired forensic accountant who, until the first lockdown, regularly used the pool at the Laura Fergusson Trust on Auckland's Great South Road.

Retired forensic accountant Denis Lane. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

It was not clear why the trust did not employ someone independent, he said.

"[O'Brien] seems to have had some past experience with property and dealing with receiverships. I can't comment on why he is unique and the only person who is available to do what is being done," Lane said.

The trust has refused to comment.

However, in his report to the trust's recent AGM, O'Brien said the organisation would continue to work for people who are disabled.

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