Health - Frustration grows as future vacant rest home beds lie in limbo

5 minutes read
Posted 8 May, 2024

The aging Lake Wakatipu Care Centre formerly Wakatipu Home attached to Lakes District Hospital

There’s growing frustration in local health circles with no firm decisions being made on the future use of the current 34-bed Lake Wakatipu Care Centre rest-home located next to the Lakes District Hospital, which will be vacated later this year.

Local health care professionals, doctors and elderly health advocates are hoping for community consultation on how to use of the wing, now over 30 years old and in need of an internal upgrade.

Lakes District Hospital and the Lake Wakatipu Care Centre share the Health NZ – Te Whatu Ora-owned building at Frankton, formerly known as the Wakatipu Home. Health NZ currently contracts age-related residential care services at the centre to Arvida Queenstown Country Club with the Country Club leasing the current site.

Health NZ– Te Whatu Ora – Southern regional manager for Ageing Well, Te Waipounamu, Mardi Fitzgibbon says Health NZ is still looking at what it could use the vacant space for, but ‘it’s early days yet’ – a similar media response to that given early last year. She wouldn’t be drawn on possibilities that are being explored for the site, including whether the extra 34-dual-use rest home-hospital level bed wing would be used for an extension to Lakes District Hospital.

Wakatipu PHO (Primary Health Organisation) founder in the early 2000s, Dr Hans Raetz says the former Southern District Health Board has known for at least five years that that wing would be vacated. “There’s no excuse for that lack of planning,” Raetz says. “They’ve not planned anything and have no budget for extra space in Queenstown,” he says. “As usual they’ll wait until it’s glaringly obvious that there’s a need here then start emergency planning.”

While it would make logical sense to use the old 34-bed aged care space for an extension to Lakes District Hospital facilities, he suspects there will not be sufficient government funding available. “That’s likely to be part of the reason for any delay to a decision, but with the new Dunedin Public Hospital likely to outgrow its size quickly it would be great to have extra beds in Queenstown.”

He says while it’s expensive to turn a wing like that into a hospital level facility, it could potentially be turned into a ‘decanting facility’ for patients’ post-surgery, or once they’ve been stabilised at a major public hospital, which would require significantly less investment.

Former long-time Queenstown GP and WellSouth clinical lead Dr Richard Macharg believes any proposal for the future of the old, aged care facility attached to the hospital should involve consultation between all parties. “It would be good if we are kept in the loop about Te Whatu Ora Southern’s plans as any solution must be a cooperative one. At this stage we haven’t heard anything,” he says.

Lakes District Hospital Foundation chairperson Jon Bitcheno, whose group fundraises for shortfalls in government funding on hospital projects, says the foundation has also been discussing possible future uses for the wing with hospital management.

“We’ve had that on the agenda this last 12 months,” he says. A range of uses have been raised, including housing particular medical equipment, an expansion for the Emergency Department, or other hospital services. “We are always guided by hospital management,” Bitcheno says. He’s not surprised no decision has been made saying that the decision doesn’t rest with hospital management alone.

The foundation was established to cover any District Health Board shortfalls and has raised $1m for a CT scanner at the hospital and built a ‘Whanau Room’ for people accompanying out of town patients. If any future use of the wing wasn’t funded then the foundation would help fund it, he says. “That’s something we’d fundraise for, absolutely. If it’s not going to be government funded and the hospital management thought it was the best use of the space, and the community agreed, we would get on board.”

Bitcheno says any decision should be planned carefully. “It’s a specific space and there’s nowhere else there to expand. Once it’s gone, that’s it, so it’s important to take the time to get it right, he says.

Wakatipu Care Trust chairperson Michael White says his group has discussed possible uses for the wing, but also stressed the community should be consulted on whatever is decided. The trust was established after a public meeting to consult on the need for a local hospice facility and got a resounding ‘yes’. “If that was something we were to raise funds for some of the elderly wing beds could be used for that,” White says.

Abbeyfield NZ chairman Simon Hayes agrees the wing was built as part of local health services and should remain as that. “There’s increasing demand for everything from mental health facilities to respite care, Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, the Cancer Society,” he says. “You could look at a combined use. The Country Club isn’t the answer to all our needs for elderly people looking at end of life options for living and care,” he says. “The reality is a lot of people can’t afford to go to the Country Club and not everyone who is older can afford health insurance.”

Local MP Joseph Mooney says he’s awaiting information from Health NZ about its plans and has confidence that they will be factoring in the growth in healthcare needs for Queenstown Lakes. It’s great that the new facility is being built by Arvida as “care for the elderly is an important part of the specific healthcare needs of this area”.


Elderly home residents on the move

All 34 Lake Wakatipu Care Centre residents will move to the new Arvida aged care facility currently under construction at Queenstown Country Club later this year.

Arvida communications manager Robbie Walker says Queenstown Country Club has given all current centre residents the option to move into the brand new, 62-care-suite facility, with no extra cost incurred, unless they want to upgrade to a premium suite. “At this stage we’d expect that most, if not all, of the Lake Wakatipu Centre residents will be directly transferring to Arvida Queenstown Country Club Care Centre,” he says. “We’ll know more when we are closer to the completion of the new care centre towards the end of the year.”

With 62 suites at the new three-level care facility, there will be plenty of room for new resident’s keen to move in and Walker says they’ve received lots of interest already. The care suites will offer rest home, hospital, and dementia-levels of care.

Staff at the current centre are planning to move all residents across to their new home on the same day with help from their families, some of whom say the elderly residents are excited to move into the nice new centre. “We’re working on a plan to transfer all residents in a smooth transition,” Walker says. “We will have additional team members available on the day and we’ll be encouraging families to join us too.”

Fitzgibbon says while Queenstown Country Club will take all current residents who want to move into the new centre, they are also free to choose to relocate to any other aged residential care facility in the region.


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