Thursday, May 4, 2023
Mackay and Whitsunday Life
Two concerned community members are aiding residents of Westminster Lodge, a North Mackay aged care rental village, to pursue legal action after an alleged decline in living standards and numerous alleged instances of neglect have affected their mental health and way of life dramatically.
Christine McDonald and Glen Dreier of Worldwide Rally for Freedom Mackay are utilising their community connections and legal background, with an investigation by the Residential Tenancies Authority (RTA) currently underway.
“The RTA is currently investigating 13 alleged breaches,” Mr Dreier said.
“They’ve now got onto the Body Corporate.
“There’s been interviews, it has been presented to the Manager, she’s had time to come back and now it’s going to the powers to be.”
Westminster Lodge appears to be a retirement village divided.
“Most of us have been here many years,” one resident wrote.
“It is our home. We like it.”
But since the catering service reportedly ceased in September 2022, forcing residents to source their own meals and limiting opportunities for social interaction, many disagree, saying they’re living in “sub-human” conditions.
“I can’t stand the way it is,” said Garry Byatt, who has lived at the village since 2020.
“I want to see the kitchen open again.
“I’m missing the food and missing being able to talk to people.”
“Since closing the kitchen, there’s been so many people depressed in here,” added Elvira Bates, a resident since 2021.
“Most of these people are so vulnerable because of their age and infirmity.”
In September 2022, a Facebook post requesting the loan of a barbecue for Christmas attracted the attention and support of many throughout the community.
Volunteers rallied to source food, presents, maintenance and provide social gatherings for the residents, who had allegedly been left with substandard kitchen facilities.
This is when Mr Dreier and Ms McDonald got involved.
“We met some fantastic people here, we cooked, we brought a heap of food, presents, and we tried to bring a bit of cheer, and a lot of people said to me, ‘We want to show you what it’s like,’ and it enraged me so much,” Mr Drier said.
“We could see that the community wasn’t going to be able to keep up this level of help long term, so we were prepared to step in and help them find a way out of it legally,” added Ms McDonald.
Each unit is equipped with a microwave, mini fridge, toaster and kettle, limited bench and storage space and dated appliances, forcing many residents to seek Meals on Wheels and the assistance of family and community to feed themselves.
“We’re trying to make a decent meal in there and it’s impossible,” said Ms Bates.
Mr Dreier surmises the division, causing tension and alleged intimidation amongst residents, to be due to improper management.
“These factions are occurring because there’s no management with the suitable training to ensure that those factions don’t occur,” he said.
“You leave factions to fester; this is exactly what you build and its purely because they don’t have a resident manager.”
Residents claim numerous instances of neglect on the property, including no emergency phones, faulty air conditioning, broken furniture, out of date fire extinguishers, rat infestations and overgrown pathways causing access issues for ambulance officers.
There have been reports of residents having to perform CPR on each other in emergencies and finding other residents deceased.
Also, residents state that while the common room is unlocked during the day, it’s only accessible through one door, causing a potential fire hazard.
Westminster Lodge Manager Helen Liu claimed to live on the premises but said she could run the business from wherever she wants.
“I can legally run the business from anywhere I like, but I’m still in Mackay,” she said.
“I can choose to live there, I can choose not to live there, it’s none of their business.”
A contract signed by all residents of Westminster Lodge states that: “Westminster Lodge Mackay is a dedicated seniors’ retirement village servicing aged care, aged, disability and veteran affairs pensioners who are over 55 years of age and are entitled to rental assistance through Centrelink.
“We provide individual units that are fully self-contained and fully furnished with catering three meals per day for seven days per week.”
The village’s meal service ceased in September last year, with a letter from Mackay Regional Council Mayor Greg Williamson addressed to Mr Dreier confirming “The license as a residential aged care (facility) was handed in, in September 2022, as was the license to conduct a kitchen on the premises.
“Minister Enoch’s department (Communities and Housing) has confirmed Westminster Lodge is no longer a residential facility for aged care and council confirms the licensing requirements to operate a kitchen were revoked in September.
“Westminster Lodge is now a facility the same as any other block of flats.”
Upon seeking records of these licenses being revoked, Mr Dreier said he was told by Council and a senior staff member of the RTA that they are still enforced.
Moreover, Westminster Lodge is still described, in signage and real estate listings, as a “retirement village” or “aged care community”.
“Under the Retirement Village Act 1999, if you advertise as a retirement village without being registered, you have committed a serious offence,” said Mr Dreier.
With investigations between residents, Ms Liu and the Body Corporate underway, many hope for new management to provide the service and standard of living outlined in their contracts.
“These people are very vulnerable and very scared,” said Ms McDonald.
“It’s only a matter of time before something more serious happens.”
Westminster Lodge residents Garry Byatt and Elvira Bates have welcomed the assistance of the community. Photo credit: Sam Gillespie
Christine McDonald and Glen Dreier were “horrified” to learn of the alleged neglect at Westminster Lodge. Photo credit: Sam Gillespie