Jan 30, 2023

Regional Lions Club aiming to build an independent aged care centre

Regional Lions Club aiming to build an independent aged care centre

Wedderburn is a former gold rush town in Victoria with a population of 950, a local footy club, and a Lions Club hoping to strike gold by building a 30-bed community care centre to keep its much-loved older residents in town.

With more than 50% of the town aged over 60, and the nearest aged care home located 30 kilometres away, the need for local aged care beds has increased over the last few years.

Residents who cannot find a bed in neighbouring towns often have to move to Bendigo, which is a one-hour drive, or further. 

Husband and wife, Lance and Wendy Ward, have spent half a century in Wedderburn and are reluctant to leave just because they may require aged care support in the coming years.

“I’m in the early 80s [and] my wife’s nearly 80, we’ve lived here for nearly 50 years and we’d like to stay here as long as we possibly can,” said Mr Ward to ABC News

“[Every] country town that’s in our vicinity, and they are in excess of 30 kilometres of one another, they have an aged care facility. 

“Wedderburn’s the only one [that doesn’t] and we’ve got a higher population than those other towns.”

Ms Ward said the couple would likely lose contact with their friends if they moved as they cannot easily travel due to their age.

As major investors have been hard to come by, the Wedderburn Lions Club is ready for action.

Ric Raftis, a member of the Wedderburn Lions Club aged care sub-committee, told ABC News that too many members of the community are already delaying moves to aged care as they do not want to leave their homes.

“If [older residents] can no longer look after themselves in their own residence, they have to go elsewhere, and where they go will depend on bed availability,” said Mr Raftis.

Mr Raftis shared his mother-in-law’s own experience.

“It got to the point where she was really not able to look after herself,” said Mr Raftis.

“After she went there, she said, ‘I should have been here years ago, I’m not afraid at night any longer.’ It’s a terrible thing to hear.”

Regional aged care services have been under the pump across Australia due to limited healthcare services, including a lack of qualified doctors and staff shortages that have seen some providers recruit high school students and graduates.

The Wedderburn Lions Club has been hit by its own challenges with financial support almost impossible, including sourcing Government funding.

Instead, the Wedderburn Lions Club hopes to run the centre as a privately operated Supported Residential Service (SRS) that supports people on a pension-level income.

The current member for Ripon, Martha Haylett, has thrown her support behind the proposal, however, past council members have stated the venture would not be financially viable, as did a recently sourced business plan. 

“It demonstrated clearly that any SRS would not be viable on a financial basis, irrespective of whether it was established here in Wedderburn or [elsewhere].

“It’s just not going to be sustainable,” said Mr Raftis. 

In the face of mounting concerns for regional and rural aged care services, Council on the Ageing (COTA) Chief Executive, Patricia Sparrow, told ABC News there needs to be a clear plan or framework that supports different models of care.

“Residential aged care funding has recently changed to acknowledge that there are increased costs of providing care in rural and remote areas,” said Ms Sparrow.

“We hope those kinds of changes will make it easier for services to stay local.

“As services are under risk, there might not be someone else who is prepared to take it on, and that’s where you might start to see the gap.

“So it’s really important that there’s an overall strategy and solution that fits a local area.”

The Wedderburn Lions Club has called on other Clubs to also consider supporting regional aged care services where gaps currently exist.

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