Flood funds don't cover elderly

ROAD and bridge repairs were covered under natural disaster relief arrangements, but it seemed the cost of protecting vulnerable elderly was not, a meeting in Grafton heard yesterday.

Representatives of the not-for-profit aged care sector met to discuss their growing frustration at the NSW Government’s apparent refusal to pay the cost of relocating residents of aged care facilities after they were ordered to evacuate during flooding in May last year.

All at the meeting said they had been told the costs of evacuation would be covered and all said they had been reimbursed when a similar evacuation order was issued during flooding in 2001. But so far the NSW Government has refused all representations from the providers and Member for Clarence Steve Cansdell for the costs to be met.

Mr Cansdell said among the many letters he had received from ministers was one from Community Services Minister Linda Burney claiming she was unable to find any evidence of the evacuation costs being met in 2001.

But Mr Cansdell said he had actually sent a copy of a cheque to Rathgar Lodge in 2001, proving the payments were made.

Mr Cansdell’s attempts to get funding started on June 15, 2009, when he wrote to the NSW Treasurer, Eric Roozendaal.

On October 2 he received a reply from Mr Roozendaal’s parliamentary secretary, Henry Tsang, saying costs associated with evacuations were not, in general, reimbursable.

Mr Cansdell said that in September he put a question on notice to then Finance Minister Joe Tripodi and wrote again to Mr Roozendaal. In October he made a private member’s statement about it; in November he wrote to Emergency Services Minister Steve Whan.

In November he was advised his correspondence had been referred to Health Minister Carmel Tebbutt and Ms Burney, but there was still no positive result. He said yesterday he had a high opinion of Ms Tebbutt, but was very disappointed she had apparently given the matter to a junior staff member to handle. Mr Cansdell said the amounts were insignificant.

In total they added to about $60,000 out of a NSW budget of about $40 billion.

But for the not-for-profit aged care sector, they were costs that would be difficult to absorb.

Dougherty Villa chairman Geoff Shepherd said it was bizarre governments would fund all infrastructure repairs after a flood, but not help those who were caring for the most vulnerable.

He said individuals who evacuated were compensated for the cost of their evacuation, so questioned why the same did not apply to elderly under care.

“For vulnerable people they are saying ‘we don’t care’,” he said.

The UPA, which runs Rathgar Lodge at Ulmarra, was out of pocket about $22,800.

Regional manager Ken Maslen said he had kept a copy of the cheque in 2001 when the UPA received $9500 to cover evacuation costs, and there should have been nothing different in 2009.

He said the costs were substantial because Rathgar catered for a number of special needs residents and staffing costs were substantially higher when they were being cared for in a motel.

“If people are living in their own homes they get assistance,” he said.

“Those people didn’t have to pay their costs. What is the difference? That is the question the government should be answering.”

A spokesman for Mr Roozendaal said the NSW Government’s policy on natural disaster was adapted from the Australian Government’s 2007 Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements determination.

“The broad aim of the State’s natural disaster relief and recovery arrangements is to provide relief measures to needy individuals and communities, public asset restoration, assistance to primary producers, small business, voluntary non-profit organisations and sporting clubs to help them get back on their feet,” he said.

“Assistance is provided to not-for-profit organisations that have suffered damage to their assets.”

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