Closure looms over Tomaree Lodge

Tomaree Lodge, in Shoal Bay, is facing closure.
Tomaree Lodge, in Shoal Bay, is facing closure.

SHOAL Bay's Tomaree Lodge, a state-run disability-care hospital capable of accommodating between 47 and 60 patients, should be celebrating its 30th birthday in 2015.

However, there will be no celebrations for many of the residents' families facing an uncertain future and the centre's impending closure.

In October 2013 the state government delivered the news that Tomaree and Stockton disability care centres would shut down by 2018 because of a plan to privatise such services following the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

This week, in response to a question about the proposed closure of the Shoal Bay Road facility, the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) said it would undertake significant discussion and engagement with the residents, their families and employees in 2015.

"Engagement with families, including the dates on which those discussions are to be held, are a private matter," the FACS spokesman said.

"Residents living in large residential centres such as Tomaree are being moved to smaller, more individualised residences to live more independently and have greater access to the community.

"This move will greatly improve the quality of life and community support these clients deserve."

But it is of little comfort to Judy Bourke, sister-in-law of longtime Tomaree Lodge resident and Angelman syndrome sufferer Marea Bourke.

Born in 1943, Marea did not develop as expected. Her father died when she was six and her mother found it difficult to manage her on her own.

"The doctors were unable to diagnose what was wrong with her, so at age eight her mother admitted Marea to Stockton Hospital where she was declared 'an idiot'," said Judy Bourke, who is one of only two known relatives and lives in the Illawarra district.

"Marea's mother did not have a car and lived about 300 miles away."

According to Judy Bourke, Marea was moved from Stockton to Tomaree Lodge in 1987 - two years after its 1985 opening - where she has remained.

"In 1989 Marea, who also suffers from epilepsy, was diagnosed with Angelman syndrome and as far as I am aware, she is the oldest person in the world living with Angelman.

"Her health and longevity can be attributed to the excellent love and care provided over 62 years at Stockton Centre and Tomaree Lodge by dedicated, professional and volunteer staff.

"Marea needs 24-hour specialist nursing care, and I just don't believe that level of care can be provided anywhere else.

"Marea has lived there for 28 years and is familiar with the grounds and staff. She would not cope with a smaller property.

"Tomaree has all the services, space, conditions, professional support and administrative support that she needs."

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