MORE than 300 people packed the Donnybrook Town Hall in support of the Tuia Lodge Board in an extraordinary public turnout for Donnybrook-Balingup Council’s November ordinary council meeting on Wednesday November 25.
The show of support followed Council’s recent withdrawal of delegated authority of the board and appointing of an administrator to oversee day to day operations at aged care facility Tuia Lodge, pending the results of an investigation into allegations by former staff members.
Members of the gallery expressed their dissatisfaction with the decision through the forum of public question time.
Nigel Tuia of Donnybrook asked when the results of an independent review into Tuia Lodge previously carried out would be released to the public, and when would Council take into consideration Tuia Lodge winning the Most Outstanding Regional Care Provider in Australasia 2015.
Shire President Angelo Logiudice said if Shire Chief Executive John Attwood saw fit, the report could be released to the public.
Mr Attwood said 95 per cent of the report could be released.
“The report does have some sensitive information in it, but if it’s relevant to release it, we can,” Cr Logiudice said.
Tony Scaffidi of Irishtown asked if any new allegations against Tuia Lodge had been released, that had not already been dealt with, at last week’s meeting.
Mr Attwood said no new allegations had been released.
Cr Logiudice said there had been ongoing allegations. “If these are not dealt with, they’re going to continue to come to us,” he said.
On being pressed by Anthony Haygarth of Donnybrook to clarify, he said there were no new allegations.
Steve Russell of Donnybrook said the new council were fast gaining a reputation for ignoring their own advice and committees, and asked if council were making policy on the run.
“In the context of what we’ve got in front of us, we need to deal with it,” Cr Logiudice said. “A lot of people think it’s a bad decision. I think it’s clearing the way for better management.”
Mr Russell went on to say that when former Board Chairman Lui Tuia had asked Councillors at the meeting whether the recent award had been taken into consideration, he had been told he might get an award today and go to prison tomorrow. He asked councillors who had said this, if it was true or unfounded that it had been said and on what grounds the comments were made.
Cr Logiudice said the award was very relevant, but the issues needed to be dealt with.
Cr Fred Mills then came forward and said the reported comment was similar to what he had said, and that he could prove his words as he had been recording the meeting.
“When Mr Tuia said we didn’t take notice of awards, the comment I said was that many people have received awards and gone to jail,” he said.
“I voted on the basis that a number of allegations have been made, I have no expertise in proving or disproving them.”
Mr Mills said that he stated at the start of the meeting that proceedings were being taped.
Judith Archibald of Donnybrook told Council and the gallery that aged care was an extremely complex process.
“The Aged Care Act of 1997 set the process for these reasons,” she said.
“Enquiries are only as good as the questions being asked. The interim committee needs to have some knowledge of Council work; they need to be familiar with Tuia Lodge and its history; and they need someone well versed in the Aged Care Act. What steps have been taken to ensure the interim committee are equally well versed in these three things?”
“It’s what we would call a transition committee, put in place to address items raised in the management review. It will comprise staff at Tuia Lodge, council staff and representatives from the Board and may include a councillor; it’s still intended for those people to form part of the committee,” Mr Attwood said.
In a lone voice of dissent, former Tuia Lodge staff member Michelle Holmes told the meeting she had left because she did not want to be a part of the practises she saw there.
“I went to management, but I may as well have hit my head on a wall,” she said.
“Tuia Lodge is lovely, but it’s what goes on behind closed doors. If you had a relative there, wouldn’t you want it to be investigated, whatever the outcome?”
Ms Holmes’s comments were shouted down by some members of the audience.
Elsie Woodley of Donnybrook asked if there were any agenda that Tuia Lodge could be sold to a company.
“There is not any agenda to sell Tuia Lodge. It’s not in the ratepayer’s interests,” Cr Logiudice said.
Anthony Haygarth thanked the four councillors who had voted against the resolution.
“The community are angry at the Councillors treatment of the Board, loyal staff and volunteers, the community who have donated to the Board, the treatment of the memory and legacy of those passed on who contributed to the Lodge, and the residents who call Tuia Lodge home,” he said.
“This decision was made behind closed doors, and the Tuia Lodge Board had no right of reply.”
Mr Haygarth asked if council would give an undertaking to give two week’s notice to hold a special council meeting to consider future management options for Tuia Lodge; to operate Tuia Lodge in caretaker mode; and to protect the financial position of Tuia Lodge while under Council management.
“I put it to you Tuia Lodge is a community facility, not a council facility,” My Haygarth said.
“One way or another, this community is going to take control and sort out the mess this council has made.”
Mr Haygarth asked Cr Logiudice to give a personal undertaking to do those things as part of uniting Council and the community.
“We will certainly make sure we do our best to manage the financial situation,” Cr Logiudice said.
He said he would discuss a special meeting with council, and was quite happy for the community to have an input.
Mr Attwood at this point interrupted to say that he had been handed a note in which councillors Steve Dilley, Leith Crowley and Ryan van der Heide formally requested a special council meeting to be held on December 9 at 6pm in the Council Chambers to consider future management options for Tuia Lodge.
This move was met with applause from the gallery.
Kate Wood of Donnybrook told the meeting her father is at Tuia Lodge.
“Why weren’t we as family members told about these allegations? Why weren’t you as councillors coming to us?” she asked.
Ms Wood said she had never seen any problems at the facility.
“I was up there one day in tears after walking out of my dad’s room, seeing his dementia, when a staff member wrapped their arms around me and said it’s okay, Kate,” she said.
Wendy Betti, representing Friends of Tuia Lodge, asked if Council had considered Tuia Lodge without its volunteers.
“It would be like Tuia Lodge with no bus,” she said.
“Friends of Tuia Lodge raised funds for that bus, at no cost to Council.”
She asked what plans had been put in place for the withdrawal of volunteer services without their Board.
“I would like to see the volunteers don’t take their services away until this is resolved,” Cr Logiudice said.
Alan Swarbrick of Donnybrook asked why Council went down this path, how much had the investigation cost so far, and if the ratepayers were paying for it.
“It was evident even going down other options, the allegations were going to continue to affect us, that’s why we took that option,” Cr Logiudice said.
Mr Attwood said so far, the investigation had cost between $20,000 and $25,000.
Rhonda McBrearty, a current Tuia Lodge staff member who had been there for eight years, said the public hadn’t heard their side of the story.
“We have been investigated inside and out, and we have been proved innocent,” she said.
She said volunteers had been thanked earlier in the night, and that the Board were all volunteers.
Mr Russell returned to the front of the meeting to ask if any other options were presented to Council before the motion was put.
“Cr Van der Heide foreshadowed a motion and a number of other options were discussed. My recommendation was to continue with the transition as recommended in the Inspire report,” Mr Attwood said.
Mario Contarino of Donnybrook said his mother had been at Tuia Lodge for eight and a half years.
“She couldn’t speak much English, and she was very stubborn,” he said.
“She loved the place. Until this day I believe if it wasn’t for Tuia Lodge, she would have died five years earlier. There were five Tuia Lodge staff at my mother’s funeral, Lui Tuia amongst them. They did a marvellous job. They helped me, now it’s my turn to help them.”
Dr Peter Rae of Donnybrook told the meeting he had been a doctor in Donnybrook for 26 years, and had been involved with Tuia Lodge.
“I can say the level of care up there is second to none,” he said.
Donna Khan said she had worked for nine years at Tuia Lodge.
“We’ve had nothing but high praise from past and present family members,” she said.
Ian Kemp of Donnybrook asked who would be taking control now, considering the Shire President and Chief Executive were members of the board.
“My primary role is CEO of the council and as CEO I have a job to undertake; we need to appoint an interim manager for Tuia Lodge. The primary concerns are for the care and safety of the residents and staff,” Mr Attwood said.
“Our role is to make sure it gets solved as quickly as possible,” Cr Logiudice said.
“While we’ve retracted delegated authority, we can also reinstate it after the investigation is concluded.”
Former Board Chairman Lui Tuia told the meeting he had been angry and hurt at the move.
“Cr Mills never told us we were being taped,” he said.
“I hope and pray they think about what they’ve done.”
Mr Tuia said there was one payment left to make on the Lodge, which the community had paid for.
“The shire didn’t pay a cent,” he said.
“Let it be all for the people and the elderly. This is not the finish, this is just the start.”
His speech received a standing ovation from the gallery.
Former Lodge Manager Keryn McNeven said she had been managing Tuia Lodge for eight years.
“If you think at any stage there would be elder abuse, I feel sorry for you,” she said.
“I’m sad to leave a beautiful facility. We’ve been questioned, we’ve been put over the coals. Every allegation has been cleared, but we are still put over the coals.”
Linda Martindale of Donnybrook told the meeting that the Councillors responsible had ripped the town apart.
“You should be ashamed of yourselves,” she said.
The question time ended close to 7pm.
A spokesperson for a group of 12 current employees, former employees and independent witnesses said they were asked by Councillors to stay away from the meeting, because of fears they would be attacked.
The spokesperson said they had brought forward in writing with proof the issues and allegations regarding the mismanagement of the Lodge to the Council and that the allegations of falsified documents and clinical misconducts had been verified.
"We are calling for a public release of these documents," the spokesperson said.
"It is not the day-to-day care of the residents we are complaining about, it is the alleged acts of the management and Board that are jeopardising the residents and staff in the facility. Staff are bound under our Duty Of Care to report any illegal activities whether we can prove them or not. The Shire staff handbook states we are protected under the equal employment act of the shire for bringing forward the complaints. Instead we have been totally victimised."
The spokesperson said the staff had followed protocol in escalating the complaints through the chain of command and due to suppression by the chief executive, took them to Council.
Shire president Angelo Logiudice said the Shire’s focus would continue to be on the care and welfare of the residents of Tuia Lodge and this would not change in any way.
A Special Meeting of Council will be held on December 9, 2015, to discuss options for the future management of Tuia Lodge.