Mar 30, 2022

Photos reveal devastating aftermath of Lismore aged care home evacuation

Lismore aged care home flood
With parts of the Northern Rivers region in a state of emergency, unfortunately the floods affected RSL LifeCare Aged Care home Fromelles Manor. (Photos: Supplied)

Fromelles Manor is located not far from the centre of the Northern Rivers town, and they had been through floods before. 

But when the floodwater consumed all of the first floor, and continued rising, management knew they had only one choice – they had to make the difficult decision to evacuate.

“We had to evacuate residents from the second floor out in boats to make them safe. It was a tricky, tricky exercise,” Graham Millet, Acting CEO of RSL LifeCare, the home’s operator, told HelloCare.

A flotilla of mostly aluminium dinghies, mostly manned by local residents, managed to evacuate the residents as the pouring rain continued to fall without any injuries being incurred. 

It was a “really, really pleasing” result in a very difficult set of circumstances, Mr Millet said.

The aged care home in Lismore after the flood. (Photos: Supplied)

“Local residents stepped up incredibly well to the challenges,” he continued. 

“There are local heroes there, some of whom will never, ever be recognised, and they may not want to be recognised. But boy, did they do a job and a half,” Mr Millet said.

“We tried to make sure that it was done in a somewhat formalised manner, as much as you can in that sort of situation, with appropriate people manning the boats,” he added.

Staff were “superb” during the evacuation and put in an extraordinary effort, Millet told HelloCare.

These sentiments were echoed in an RSL LifeCare social media post about the evacuation.

“Thinking of all of the residents, their families and the amazing staff,” wrote one commenter.

“Thank you my husband was evacuated and we are so grateful that he is safe,” wrote another.

Staff accompanied the residents in the boats “to make sure they were being looked after” and did an “excellent” job of maintaining their spirits, keeping them informed, and providing reassurance.

Mr Millet admitted the residents, many of whom are frail, were “very concerned, I think that’s fair to say”. 

Many found the ordeal “very disturbing indeed … this sort of significant change is a real worry to them”.

Mr Millet observed that the residents who seemed to cope best were those well supported by extended family. 

“Where family support is less comprehensive, I think some of those people are struggling a little bit more. But obviously our staff have identified those people and are trying to step in and fill the void.”

The Defence Forces, SES, police and the fire brigade also deserve special mention, Mr Millet said.

The aged care home after the flood – note how high the water level rose, you can see the mark on the walls. (Photo: Supplied)

A heavy toll

Mr Millet acknowledged the evacuation has taken a toll on staff. 

“They rose to the occasion, but they’re becoming exhausted now,” he noted. 

“And yet at the same time, they’re still making sure the residents are OK. I mean, it’s just extraordinary to see. Just amazing.”

Mr Millet said he is “so very grateful” to them.

Nearly all of the approximately 60 residents, apart from a small number, have now been relocated and that small number is expected to have new lodgings by today.

Local UnitingCare and BaptistCare homes have been “very good” and have offered space to the residents who need it. 

Fromelle Manor is expected to be unliveable for between six and nine months. The damage is still being assessed, but is expected to be to the tune of several million dollars. 

Two senior RSL LifeCare staff are on the ground to look after staff and residents and make sure they have all the information they need. 

The aged care home after the flood. (Photos: Supplied)

Mr Millet will visit early next month. 

“I’ve been advised that perhaps April is the best time for me to go, to give people a chance to find their feet up there.” 

Mr Millet said he understands criticism that the government has responded too slowly, and said it would be fair to say their response was a few days late. But he also wanted to acknowledge their support.

“I’ve been involved with crises of various forms over the years, and I think what has to be recognised is that it’s often the people on the spot who are the first responders, they jump in and do the work,” he explained. 

“But I think now there is incredible focus on getting it right, both at a state level and at a federal level.” 

The federal Department of Health has been “very, very supportive”, he said. 

“I’ve been really pleased with their response. They understand that things need to be done and need to be done quickly, but they need to be done properly as well.” 

Though the experience was “disturbing” and “concerning”, Mr Millet said it was also “rewarding”. 

He is proud of how the Lismore community helped and impressed by the ordinary Australians who found themselves in the middle of a crisis and stepped up to help those in need.

The home after the flood – note how high the water level rose, you can see marks on the walls. (Photo: Supplied)

“The best comes out in people during this sort of time. I mean, I think this country is pretty amazing in the sense that when there is a crisis, everybody rises to the occasion and pitches in. 

“Yes, I’ve seen stories of bits of looting and what have you. I mean, unfortunately, those people exist, but they are a very, very small minority,” Mr Millet told HelloCare.

“Overall, I felt really proud of the way they stepped up to the challenge, notwithstanding the fact they had these personal challenges themselves being flooded, cars disappearing, and more.” 

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