Reefton elderly care home Ziman House closing permanently

By Lee Scanlon of

Close up hands of senior elderly woman patient suffering from pakinson's desease symptom. Mental health and elderly care concept

Reefton’s aged residential care (ARC) facility, Ziman House, is now permanently closed.

The 12-bed home has been in limbo since March 2022 when the former West Coast District Health Board (DHB) shut it suddenly because of unsustainable staffing levels. At the time the DHB promised the closure was temporary.

Since then, Reefton locals needing rest home care have had to leave the district. Only two of the elderly residents shipped out of Ziman House in 2022 remain alive.

Health NZ director ageing well – national commissioning – Andy Inder announced the closure today following a meeting with the Reefton Health Action Group (RHAG).

“We acknowledge this will be upsetting for Ziman House staff and Reefton residents, particularly because of previous reassurances that the facility will reopen when nursing staff are recruited,” Inder said.

The harsh reality was that Ziman House’s agreed residential care was neither feasible nor sustainable from a staffing or financial perspective for Health NZ, he said.

“Ziman House is not fit-for-purpose as a modern ARC facility and the layout does not easily support the nursing model of care usually delivered in an ARC facility. It will require significant investment to improve Ziman House to appropriate standards, which we don’t believe is the best use of funding.”

Inder said it had been difficult to employ a sustainable nursing staff in Reefton to ensure safe care for Ziman House residents.

He said Ziman House beds cost four times the average cost of rest home level care and nearly three times the average cost of hospital level care.

Health NZ was committed to ensuring Reefton – and all rural towns – had safe and sustainable services for older residents and their whānau to live well as they aged.

“There are alternative community models of care that have been working well in rural communities elsewhere in New Zealand, which we want to explore and bolster for Reefton – and we know that older people increasingly want to remain in their own homes as long as possible.”

Inder said Health NZ would consult the community in coming weeks on options for new services. They included transport to Westport’s O’Conor home, transport for shopping, a community day activity programme (support for carers) as well as in-home respite support.

“Today’s meeting was difficult, however it does create certainty and we would like to thank the Reefton Health Action Group for their commitment to the community and interest in working through these options positively with us.

“Ultimately, we want the community to be part of the solution and we will be setting up a range of public meetings to ensure that we can hear from the community as to their needs. This will enable us to build the right care framework for the town’s ageing population.”

Buller District councillor Graeme Neylon, a member of RHAG, said today’s announcement was not unexpected but was still a bitter blow.

At least the community now had a decision and could progress its own proposals for elderly care, he said.

“Everybody was of the view that health services should be funded by the taxpayer, not the ratepayer, not by cake stalls or sausage sizzles etc. But it’s obviously become a more realistic option now…

“We can’t sustain sending our elderly away for the twilight of their life, when they’ve lived in this community their whole life. It’s just inhumane.”

Neylon said if Reefton residents ended up in Westport’s O’Conor Home, they would be separated from their relatives who faced a 200km round trip to visit them. “At public service rates for travel that’s $140-plus a trip.”

He said five elderly people had had to leave Reefton for ARC care in the last few months.

Health NZ’s comments about the unsustainable costs of the service flew in the face of former Health Minister Andrew Little’s promise that health care would not be a post code lottery, Neylon said.

“It’s not an add-on or a nice to have, it’s just as essential as a GP service… But we’re not going to lie down, we’ll come up with an alternative solution.”

Buller Mayor Jamie Cleine asked Health NZ West Coast more than three weeks ago for an update on Ziman House’s future, after a deputation from RHAG. He had not had a response until Monday’s announcement.

Cleine said Monday’s decision was disappointing but Inder had assured him Health NZ would work with the community to investigate other options.

Inder had reiterated there was no change to Reefton’s other health services operating from the Ziman House site, including family health and visiting specialists, Cleine said.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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