Tuesday 12 June 2007

Hansard of the Legislative Council


Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr Deputy President, I will not be long. What a sorry story the saga of Launceston's palliative care facility, Philip Oakden House, has become. It cannot be doubted that the community is committed to the palliative care unit and the principles behind it. We have seen a massive petition and the vigorous public meeting in recent weeks. It cannot be doubted that the State Government is committed to Philip Oakden House.

The Department of Health and Human Services has come up with a State Government contribution of $700 000. What seems to be in doubt, Mr Deputy President, is the commitment of the operator, OneCare. OneCare seems to have no commitment whatsoever.

As I tried to explain in my address to the public meeting on the future of Philip Oakden, the change is happening at a greater pace than ever before and we, as a community, need to adapt more quickly than in the past if we are to maintain our important community institutions.

I said that somewhere along the way since its inception in 1993, its takeover by OneCare in 2004 and today something had changed, a change we perhaps did not see coming and adapt to quickly enough. There we were with the consequences of that change.

Mr Deputy President, how could the community have seen this change approaching? Because it was obscure and devious! I knew that would shock you. Less than three weeks before the closure of Philip Oakden House it has been revealed by its senior manager that there has been another agenda hidden from the community whose efforts established the palliative care facility.

Philip Oakden's Nurse Manager, Sharon Wendon, was appointed by OneCare to run the facility last year. She was to manage its finances and identify cost savings. Ms Wendon seems to have done that in an exemplary fashion. In February last year she saved running costs by making redundant a full-time registered nurse and a casual nurse. She projected a budget of just over $977 000. Mr Deputy President, if you compare that with the State Government's contribution of $700 000 and the private health contributions of $400 000 that is a total of $1.1 million. That is almost $120 000 more than Ms Wendon's budget. Rather than financial difficulties, Mr Deputy President, there was more than $100 000 to spare.

So we ask why is OneCare determined to close Philip Oakden in three weeks' time because of financial problems? The Launceston community is entitled to smell a strong stink and it is very fishy, Mr Deputy President. I suspect that those who have been working since 1994 to establish and perpetuate a caring place for the terminally ill to die in the north have been hoodwinked.

Ms Wendon's financial figures are elaborated upon in this morning's Examiner newspaper. One of her suggested cost savings was to employ a cleaner only for the necessary three hours a day at $17 000 a year. OneCare apparently insisted on costing this as a full-time cleaner at $36 000. Ms Wendon also alleged that OneCare's budget staffing levels were exaggerated and that her budgeted lower levels were well above the national average for such a facility. She has experience. In a previous job she ran a 70-bed hospital in Sydney.

Mr Deputy President, it has been suggested that OneCare's mind and financial plans are elsewhere. OneCare wants to establish a 40-bed nursing home at Burnie, a 60-bed one at Port Sorell and a facility called Barossa Park at Glenorchy, all of this at a total cost of $76 million. Given the strong commitment of the Launceston community and the State Government, it is a travesty that a hungry operator with ambitions elsewhere can dictate the closure of a hospice established by the community.

Mr Deputy President, I predict that the determination of the community will prevail. Operators with other ambitions who obscure financial figures from those who have a right to see them should be sent packing. The Launceston community has a right to Philip Oakden House. The State Government believes so to the tune of $700 000. Let the community take back its palliative care centre so its members may die in peace, not for profit.