This month's announcement on the future of Kimberley Centre is likely to make a mockery of nursing staff shortages, particularly in the mental health sector.
Closure of this country's only surviving psychopaedic institution is signalled in the NZ Disability Strategy released by the Minister for Disability Issues several weeks ago and also by the provision of $44.6 million in last month's budget on new spending for disability and support services, including deinstitutionalisation.
Kimberley Centre currently provides specialist services for nearly 400 people with an intellectual disability and employs more than 350 staff, many of them registered psychopaedic nurses.
Staff were warned last November there was no guarantee of ongoing employment following implementation of any deinstitutionalisation decision and transition.
A working party set up to report back to the Minister on the latest round of needs assessments and community consultation is recommending deinstitutionalisation, despite 30.5% of the needs assessments and 43.4% of written submissions endorsing Kimberley as the preferred place of residence.
An independent analysis of these submissions acknowledges the value placed upon skilled staff, noting that the current pool of staff represents a considerable resource.
Nursing Council figures confirm there are less than 250 registered psychopaedic nurses still practicing in this country.
Nevertheless, the transition plan presented to the Health Minister less than two years ago set aside $10.74 million for staff redundancy costs, plus a further $900,000 for provider development and $416,000 for staff training for the new providers. Wyatt Creech, who rejected this transition plan says the Kimberley issue continues to worry him.
He says those that argue for community care are winning the argument again within official circles. "A relatively small group of officials push extremely hard for a total community devolution approach. Their view is based on ideology rather than practicality.
"As Minister of Health, I found I had to stand up to that kind of approach quite rigidly or they would have gone ahead and done what they wanted to. And yet, when I asked them why they were so committed to the concept, they really could not offer substantial evidence or reasons to support it. It was as if they were all caught up in a cycle of arguing a particular cause, almost for the sake of it."
The NZ Disability Strategy released during April this year, favours community-based services, and the elimination of institutionalisation.
The IHC also advocates Kimberley's closure. According to Jeff Sanders, general manager of service development and training, the IHC does not support the view that people resident at Kimberley Centre are best served by a specialist facility. He says the IHC is absolutely committed to the full closure of the Kimberley Centre and the settlement of residents into community-based homes.
Statistics compiled by the Health Department in 1980 revealed that Kimberley cared for nearly 50% more severely handicapped people than other facilities, and also accepted the psychiatrically disturbed, unlike Mangere and Templeton which have since been closed.
The psychopaedic nursing qualification was phased out a decade ago in favour of a more generic training programme which failed to materialise on the scale envisaged.
For further information on this material, contact Anne Hunt (ph/fax 06 363 7750)