Disability advocate Belinda Epstein-Frisch has a written an opinion piece ‘Stockton closure worries can be overcome’, which was published in the Newcastle Herald today.
The gist of the piece seems to be that the closure of the Stockton Centre and other large residential care facilities is a good thing for clients living in these centres and families who are concerned are scared of change and have fallen prey to political fear mongering.
This post is my response, an open letter to Belinda.
Belinda, your piece does a disservice to the parents of people living with a disability in the Stockton Centre and other large residential facilities. You patronise them. Rather than seeing these families as educated consumers who have raised concerns regarding the wholesale privatisation of the NSW disability sector and the closure of their children’s homes you try and portray them as ignorant victims who “cling to what is known”. This is not the case.
The Stockton Centre isn’t some sort of outdated institution; it’s a gated community that offers unparalleled care for some of our community’s most vulnerable people.
I’d like to see you publish a link to the research you quote. I’d also be interested to see some research into the effect that privatisation has on medical care facilities.
That’s what the Stockton Centre partly is, a medical facility. It has the capacity and the skilled staff required to provide the around the clock hospital grade care required to keep alive people living with severe and complex disabilities.
The opposition to the proposed closure of Stockton doesn’t come from a naïve minority. Many families, clients, disability workers and other stakeholders have highlighted concerns and asked legitimate questions such as:
- How will group homes run by private sector staff with less qualifications, experience, pay, conditions and infrastructure support provide the same quality of care currently relied by on by people living with disabilities being cared for by highly qualified public sector staff with government wages and hospital level care infrastructure?
- Where do the 400 or so clients living at the Stockton Centre go when it’s “redeveloped”? Who will pay when the NDIS doesn’t cover accommodation and when NSW is in the midst of a public housing crisis?
- What money is going to be used to construct the multitude of additional group homes required to house the hundreds of people currently living in large residential facilities?
- What will happen to the people who find it impossible to live “in the community”. Like the large number of people who returned to the Stockton Centre after trying and failing to live in group homes and supported accommodation during the Richmond Scheme? Where will they go when there’s no Stockton Centre to go back to?
- The government is pulling out of disability funding. The NDIS, the only funding left, doesn’t cover people aged 65 years and over. What happens to a 66 year old person living with a disability in the Stockton Centre?
My motivation and the motivation of everyone raising concerns isn’t “fear-mongering”, it’s not ignorance and it’s not fear of change. It’s a fear of the systematic degradation of the disability sector in NSW played out behind the smoke screen of the NDIS. It’s a genuine concern for the well being of people living with disabilities. Instead of telling them what they should think why don’t you actually go to the Stockton Centre and listen to some of these families you’re talking down to. You might learn something.