After a 200 person strong rally and an MP bringing up the issue in Parliament, the trust behind a shut-down centre for the disabled has broken its silence
The Laura Fergusson Trust has agreed to meet the Ministry of Health about its money problems after a year of shutting down talks and refusing to answer questions.
The trust, which ran a rehabilitation facility for the young and disabled in central Auckland until March of last year, made the decision after protests and discussions in Parliament.
On Sunday, more than 200 people gathered outside the mostly shuttered rehabilitation facility to protest its closure and expected sale.
The rally came after a last-minute petition organised by disabled activist Sophia Malthus and her aunt, prominent Auckland business leader Victoria Carter, who also brought the plight of the facility to local MP and ACT leader David Seymour.
Cars tooted in solidarity with the people who relied on Laura Fergusson Rehabilitation as a place where the young and disabled could reclaim some independence, along with its unique hydrotherapy pool and offers of respite care for overworked family carers.
The protesters were not only calling on the trust to speak up about the situation, but also on the Government to step in.
In Parliament on Tuesday, Seymour broached the subject with Minister of Health Andrew Little, asking if the Ministry had been in talks with the trust to help keep the centre afloat.
According to Seymour, “The Ministry of Health said when it engaged with the trust all offers were on the table, including funding – but the trust said its decision to stop providing services was final.”
Seymour said it had “gone to ground” and refused to answer questions. Yesterday, however, it decided to break its silence.
Trust chair Chris O’Brien said it was willing to meet with the Ministry of Health, which has said it will come to the meeting with a range of options on the table.
O’Brien was disappointed by how the situation was shown in Parliament, claiming the trust’s position was misrepresented.
“The board is happy to meet with the Minister of Health to clarify the factual position at his convenience,” he said.
Victoria Carter was happy with the outcome.
“It was more than I had hoped for,” she said. “To hear the Government really do want to talk to the board to keep it open – the board can’t hide behind lack of money any more.”
Seymour called the trust’s agreement to meet with the Ministry “fantastic news”, and hoped it would approach the meeting focusing on the young people needing its services.
“I encourage the trust board to go to that meeting armed with requests for what they need to make the organisation sustainable,” he said.
The controversy began last March, when the facility was closed due to a reported lack of funds. Residents said news of the imminent closure was delivered with little warning, and many found themselves in old-age rest homes and geriatric wards unsuited to their needs.
The petition to save the centre is still open, with activists hoping enough public support will convince the Government to step in.