Oct 06, 2023

New ownership on the horizon for determined Feros Village residents

95-year-old Kate Smorty and seven fellow residents could see their aged care home handed over to new owners, boosting their chances of remaining on site. [Source: NBN News]

There’s good news – and some bad – for the last eight residents living at Feros Village Byron Bay after their steadfast refusal to leave the aged care home entered its seventh month.

The New South Wales Government has announced an Expression of Interest (EOI) process for new ownership to keep the ageing facility going. It will hopefully result in a new long-term owner stepping forward and working with the residents to keep them from having to move elsewhere. 

Organisations such as Apollo Care Alliance have thrown their hat into the ring.

“We bring a wealth of knowledge, we bring systems and we bring all the financial and we work closely with the local community on improving the services for residents,” Stephen Besci, Apollo Care CEO, told NBN News.

Key points

  • In March, Feros Care announced it would be closing the Byron Bay aged care home due to the fact it no longer met modern aged care standards
  • Although it intended to relocate all 40-plus residents quickly, it said it would remain open until it could find suitable accommodation for all of them
  • The closure date has twice been postponed as ten residents remained in July; that number is now eight
  • Feros Care holds a licence for the site that will expire in May 2024 and it is exploring opportunities to redevelop – its plan all along

From the first day they were told they would have to leave, a plucky group of residents has been led by 95-year-old Kate Smorty. Ms Smorty previously said she felt sorry for Feros Care for trying to move everyone out, because they would be staying no matter what.

Ms Smorty has remained at the forefront of the action since then, motivating residents and the local community. She appeared on The Project last week, revealing she felt very relieved to hear a new owner could be on the way.

“I’ve always risen up and got very cross if I see injustice. If I heard anything on the news that I thought was unjust I would [speak up]. I like justice, I’m not actually a fighter. I would like things to be fair.”

When asked about what she loved the most about Feros Village, Ms Smorty highlighted the luscious gardens and the amount of open space residents can enjoy. 

“And instead of one big building, there are four separate cottages with ten rooms in each cottage which means when you go out to the dining room and the same ten people are sitting there it’s like a family.” 

Owners hit back, say site is still unsuitable

In a recurring theme for the Feros Village Byron Bay saga, the good news is still tinged with the bad. Feros Care also provided a statement that welcomed the Government’s support while warning it still may not lead to the residents being able to stay at the site.

“The Expression of Interest (EOI) process by the NSW Department of Planning & Environment (Crown Lands) in no way ensures the eight residents who are refusing to leave will be able to stay should an alternate operator for the site be found,” the statement said.

“Feros Care has repeatedly asserted to government authorities that the reason for the closure is the facility in Byron Bay, which was built as a low-care hostel, is unsuitable and unsafe to remain as a government-funded residential aged care facility.”

“We will review the Expression of Interest though our position remains unchanged, that the site in its current form is not suitable for government-funded residential aged care due to our obligations under the Aged Care Act, and the planning and zoning constraints.”

The regional aged care operator added it had not received any negative feedback from the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission regarding the handling of the Byron Bay site’s closure. It reaffirmed its commitment to the local aged care community, highlighting its Bangalow Residential Aged Care Facility remains open, 15 minutes away in a neighbouring town.

Once again, it appears that a waiting game is underway as the residents will have to wait and see what happens with the EOI process. Their Lawyer, Mark Swivel, told The Project, ‘It’s a big win for everyone involved’.

“Feros have behaved like they own the land but they don’t and you can’t behave like a property developer because you don’t own the land. There was no plan, no development approval and the residents weren’t told what was going on. It was vague from day one,” he said.

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