FAMILIES and friends of the Stockton Centre have made it clear they want the institution to remain as is and are planning a major community campaign next year to change the state government’s mind.
About 90 people from as far as the south coast met at Stockton RSL yesterday for the third forum in two weeks on the future of the Stockton Centre and two other large residential centres in the Hunter, Kanangra at Morisset and Tomaree at Port Stephens.
All three are slated for closure under a state government policy to shut large residential centres – a policy affected by a joint state-federal agreement as part of the National Disability Insurance Scheme that the NSW government privatise its disability services by 2018.
Former Stockton Centre chief executive Lorraine Yudaeff held the room in silence yesterday as she spoke of her experience as a state bureaucrat writing the program to implement the 1983 Richmond report, which suggested moving psychiatric patients into the community.
She said governments did not provide the community support that was promised but even with it there were some people, especially the aged and those whose behaviour meant society ‘‘rejected’’ them – who were better off left “where they were”.
This applied now to the Stockton, Kanangra and Tomaree patients.
She said the government wanted to privatise the system but “these are not banks or ferries or railways, these are really vulnerable people”.
Lawyer Kate Washington said the state government’s argument that Stockton was illegal because its “whole of life” principles breached disability law was a “selective argument” based on one interpretation of one law.
Ms Washington said the government’s admission that it was likely to house more challenging people in “semi-rural” areas – in order to minimise the disruption on neighbours – was an admission in itself that not all people could fit into the mainstream suburban community.
She said the Stockton Centre’s proximity to the township meant the people there would have a closer relationship with the community than those moved to group homes.
A range of people spoke from the floor yesterday to tell how the Stockton, Kanangra and Tomaree centres had provided wonderful care for their family members over the years, and how the staff were as much “mates” to the clients as anything.
Lyn Warner, whose brother Darrell lives at Kanangra, said 80per cent of Kanangra clients had no family, and she feared for their representation.
Wendy Cuneo, who helped organise the forum, said everyone was determined to keep fighting the decision.
“Laws can be passed but they can be repealed too, and we won’t stop until the threat to Stockton, Kanangra and Tomaree is gone,’’ she said.
Problem patients concern nurses
INTELLECTUALLY and physically disabled patients were being forced out of group homes and into psychiatric hospitals because there was nowhere else for those with ‘‘challenging’’ behaviour, a forum at Stockton heard yesterday.
Sydney nurse and NSW Nurses Association organiser Jeff Crebert told a community forum on the future of the Stockton Centre that the experience in Sydney was grim.
The forum had already heard group homes were hardly ideal for patients who, like one woman, ‘‘screamed for six hours on end’’, or another who made continuous loud hooting noises.
Mr Crebert said such behaviour could upset the dynamic of a group home, and non-government organisations were unable to cope with such behaviour, so the psychiatric system was the only alternative.
Mr Crebert said large institutions like Stockton provided exactly the sort of care and space that such people needed and thrived on.
Like other speakers, he said Stockton, Kanangra and Tomaree should stay open.