It is not too late to fix the "broken" health system and to address staffing issues brought on by the impending closure of Tomaree Lodge and other disability care centres, according to clinical psychologist and long time advocate for people with a disability, Fern Bay's Lorraine Yudaeff.
Ms Yudaeff spent 10 years (1990-2000) as the CEO of the Hunter Region Development Disability Service based at Stockton and is currently the president of the Stockton Hospital Welfare Association (SHWA), which looks after the interests of some 300 residents living at Tomaree, Stockton and Morisset centres.
"The SHWA has long been advocating for a disability clinic, where people can be diagnosed and treated by professionals who are specialised in the disability field," Ms Yudaeff said.
"This type of clinic has always been a feature at the Stockton Centre, staffed by experienced doctors, clinical nurse consultants and visiting specialists such as dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, speech pathologists (for life threatening swallowing difficulties) and dieticians.
"That model could profitably be extended to all people with a disability who have problems accessing adequate community care and become a training and consultation centre for community practitioners."
Ms Yudaeff said she was alarmed at the news that some experienced staff at Tomaree, Stockton and Kanangra had been told they may not have continuing jobs when the residents they've cared for move into the community.
"The past and present staff deserve congratulations for the excellent quality of care they have delivered to the residents of those centres over many years," she said.
"Not only have they provided an enviable quality of life, they have extended many people's lives way beyond medical expectations.
"Many of these residents have complex health and behaviour problems that are not generally present in the community population, and therefore not easily recognised or dealt with.
"They are the realities that must be taken into account as these residents move into community housing."
A spokesperson for Family and Community Services (FACS) maintains that the safe and smooth transition of residents to community living in new contemporary accommodation remained a priority.
"The [staffing] roles impacted by the Hunter Residences redevelopment program will be managed in accordance with standard government process, including support for staff to find alternate roles, matching roles in other government departments, and as a final step, redundancies," a spokesperson said.
"This process has been used for all staff transfers to date, which includes several hundred nurses who have transferred to other service providers across NSW over the past two years.
"Staff who do not transfer will have access to funding to help them train in their existing careers or learn new skills. In addition to HR support, other resources are available, including access to study time leave, CV workshops and vocational counselling, career planning and transition advice."
Ms Yudaeff said she was constantly amazed by the ability of experienced staff to tune in to early signs and respond to residents with communication issues.
"Sadly, we've already seen the effects of this lack of experience in some group homes resulting in emergency admissions and disastrous health outcomes."
Ms Yudaeff said that she was equally alarmed at the problems confronting GPs, dentists, emergency departments and other community health professionals when faced with patients who can't list their symptoms, and who are far from easy to examine or treat.
"Consultations take a long time, community practices are not set up to handle the problems and funding models come nowhere near a fair payment system."
The redevelopment of Tomaree Lodge is part of the Hunter Residences redevelopment program.
Five individually designed homes would be built in the Port Stephens area, with homes expected to become available to residents in 2020. The state government announced in May that Home4Life, a joint venture between Compass Housing and BlueCHP, would be supporting people with disabilities.