New patients at Stockton Centre

IN USE: A refurbished unit of the Stockton Centre where the resident is being housed.
IN USE: A refurbished unit of the Stockton Centre where the resident is being housed.

 Disability debate rekindled Editorial  

THREE people have been quietly moved into the Stockton Centre – the latest this week – despite state government plans to close it and an official ban on new arrivals stretching back for an estimated 20 years.

A spokesperson for the government’s Ageing, Disability and Home Care service confirmed a man had been moved from Albury to the Stockton Centre on Monday.

He said the other recent arrivals  lived in ‘‘vacant buildings on the site’’ with care provided by non-government staff.

Labor candidate for the state seat of Port Stephens Kate Washington said the government was ‘‘saying one thing but doing another’’ when it came to the Stockton Centre.

‘‘These moves have been shrouded with secrecy and it’s clearly inconsistent with government policy,’’ Ms Washington said.

She said the Stockton Centre needed to remain open and the state government should reverse its decision to exit disability services under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

But the government spokesman said ‘‘large residential centres’’ were sometimes used to provide temporary accommodation.

The spokesman said the man had moved to Stockton on a ‘‘time-limited ... planned therapeutical placement’’ rather than an ‘‘accommodation placement’’.

He said the approval of Disability Services Minister John Ajaka had not been needed.

Confirmation that difficult-to-manage clients have been quietly moved to Stockton is likely to revive debate about its planned closure and the state government’s exit of disability services under the NDIS.

Nurses and Midwives’ Association branch president Michael B.Grant said the three people had been moved into Stockton because of ‘‘behavioural’’ issues.

‘‘This means they are at danger of self-harming and of harming others around them,’’ Mr Grant said.

Mr Grant – a Stockton nurse for about 20years – said the Albury man was being housed in a formerly closed but recently refurbished section of the centre.  A high ‘‘pool-style’’ fence covered in black mesh had been built around the courtyard being used by the man and his carers.

Mr Grant confirmed    another male resident, also believed to be in his 20s, had been housed in the ‘‘old nurses’ home’’ for about two years while a young woman had been in a cottage for about four years.

‘‘Both arrived with their own staff and security who were then trained by Stockton staff,’’ Mr Grant said.

Other Stockton Centre sources said the families of the two people supported their move to Stockton.

They said the woman’s condition had improved at Stockton and she still had around-the-clock care but no security contingent.

The young man’s behaviour had also improved.

The closure of the Stockton Centre has become tied up with the NDIS but the state government insists on the two being treated as separate policies.

Both sides of state politics have been committed to closing large residential centres such as Stockton for some years, but deadlines  have been repeatedly pushed back under Labor.

A federal-state ‘‘heads of agreement’’ signed by then prime minister Julia Gillard and former premier Barry O’Farrell committed the state government to exiting the disability sector as part of the NDIS by 2018, which was also the most recent deadline for the Stockton closure.

The future of large residential centres is a major controversy in the disability community, with some advocates calling for them to be closed and replaced with group houses. 

But  families of some people with disabilities, together with a number of disability specialists and practitioners, believe  large campuses like Stockton have a place in disability care.