Jan 11, 2024

RN brings hope with GoFundMe campaign for flood-affected residents in Cairns

Michael received a brand new dehumidifier to help reduce mould growth. The scene on the right shows the Kamerunga Villas during the flood. [Source: linkedIn]

While most of us were getting ready for Christmas festivities with family and friends, north Queensland was experiencing the devastating effects of Tropical Cyclone Jasper. But a small group of aged care advocates have banded together to raise funds for a community of older people left shell-shocked by the harrowing end to 2023.

On the outskirts of Cairns, Kamerunga Villas residents were besieged by the historic flood. Those who could evacuate, did so, while others remained as water from the Barron River streamed through their homes. 

Coral Wilkinson, a Registered Nurse and the founder/Director of See Me Aged Care Navigators, was lucky enough to get her mum out of her villa on December 17, just before the street was cut off. 

Nearly one month later electricity is still being restored via generators, older residents remain displaced or in hospital, and the process of cleaning and repairing their homes is only beginning. 

“But this elderly cohort I’ve spoken to, they are the people who have just gotten on with life. They’re stoic, they’re proud and they don’t want to ask for help. Gaining their trust so you can get through the front door and have a chat and see what they need is not something that happens overnight.”

Aged care community rallies their support

An experienced RN and advocate for older people, Ms Wilkinson knew instantly that her mum, and neighbours, would need extra help. She rushed in to begin doorknocking to see how residents were and what they needed, including clinical supplies, continence products and meals. 

Ms Wilkinson’s early efforts quickly led to the creation of a GoFundMe page by Alwyn Blayse, CEO of AAC Health Group Australia, and Amina Schipp from Aged Care Reform Now. Their pre-Christmas target of $2,000 was quickly surpassed, with the current total of over $14,000 bringing them closer to a renewed $20,000 goal. 

Ms Wilkinson said the last few weeks have shown how the aged care community can come together to support its own, and it’s hoped the donations will continue.

“It strikes at the core of what we do and what we believe in. I’m very much an optimist and if there is a silver lining to this terrible event perhaps parts of the sector can show they’re giving back to the community because they do care,” explained Ms Wilkinson. 

Top: the villas on a day of peak flooding. Bottom: the day after shows just how far the Barron River rose. [Source: LinkedIn]

Among those who have supported the cause are Trilogy Care founder James Whitelaw, Mable co-founder Peter Scutt, Empowered Ageing founder Tim Martin and Melanie Strydom, a local Home Instead Cairns franchisee. Ausclimate also matched a purchase of 10 dehumidifiers with 10 donated units. 

“When they said yes straight up and donated, I just sat here and thought it’s significant that I can call upon these CEOs I’ve never met and they tell me they believe in what I’m doing and donate. But it’s not about the size of the donation, it’s people understanding what our cause is about,” added Ms Wilkinson.

“It’s so heartening to see a sector and people rallying together to support a cause that needs quite a lot of support.”

Residents face a difficult journey

Ms Wilkinson also shared with HelloCare the sadness residents are feeling, not just from the water damage in their homes, but from personal loss. One resident had to euthanise her 16-year-old dog who was traumatised from the flooding. Others have been separated from their homes and loved ones, and it’s possible residents will never see their homes again.

“So many of them were just washing the mud out of their homes in the days following and they put all their belongings out on the verge to be collected. Those residents have been put up in accommodation and I’ve heard from the builders it’ll be anywhere between nine and 12 months before they can come home again,” she explained.

“One gentleman is 90 years old, so is he even going to be able to come home? I don’t know.”

However, with support from the wider community and money from the GoFundMe, Ms Wilkinson is optimistic about creating positive outcomes for the residents.

She has already supplied dehumidifiers to residents, while seven cartons of continence products arrived on her doorstep just this week. One of the next steps will be cleaning up with air conditioner cleaning and maintenance a top priority to prevent mould growth around at-risk residents with respiratory conditions. 

Other priorities include new towels and linen, anti-slip bath mats, mobility aids, shower chairs and precooked meals. Even a belated Christmas celebration is on the radar for those who missed out. 

“The older people told me that as they met up with friends who lived in other areas of Cairns, friends would ask them ‘How was your Christmas, what did you get for Christmas?’ and these people were tearing up and crying because they had to say that Christmas didn’t happen,” Ms Wilkinson said.

“I want to buy something lovely I can give to these people to show that everyone who’s donated to this campaign is thinking of them and although they missed out on Christmas here’s a special gift to make you feel good.”

For more information on the campaign, including regular updates from Ms Wilkinson, please visit their GoFundMe page.

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