STOCKTON Centre staff say that about a dozen former residents have died since 2017 after being moved into group homes - a death rate they say is far higher than normal.
A nurses' delegation told Disabilities Minister Gareth Ward of the deaths at a meeting in Sydney last Wednesday.
With the government intent on closing Stockton and the Tomaree and Kanangra disability centres, staff say the residents need nursing care, and not just the "support" given in group homes.
While some of the deaths may have been natural causes, staff believe that others were preventable deaths caused by problems that would have been noted and treated as a matter of course in Stockton.
The Newcastle Herald put questions about the deaths to Mr Ward after the meeting, but these were referred to Family and Community Services.
FACS declined to answer any questions about the deaths themselves, saying instead that the NSW Ombudsman and the newly formed NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission were responsible for reviewing the deaths of people with disability in residential care.
This response has angered those aware of the situation, including Port Stephens MP Kate Washington, who lodged a notice of motion in parliament last week condemning the government and noting that "numerous residents who have transitioned to group homes have died".
The ombudsman looked at the 494 people who died in residential disability care between 2014-17 and found "at least 42" of these were preventable.
Of the 42 deaths, 11 were by choking while eating.
Available figures are not as precise for the NDIS Commission, but a brief summary of compliance activities on its website shows it was notified of 141 "reportable" deaths in the second half of last year in NSW and South Australia.
The 141 deaths were included in a total of 1459 "serious incidents and allegations", which also included 496 allegations of "abuse and neglect", 283 of "unauthorised restrictive practice" (tying down or sedating) 250 of "serious injury", 227 of "unlawful physical/sexual contact" and 62 of "sexual misconduct".
Asked by the Herald, the commission said the 141 deaths included natural causes. It said the 1459 reportable incidents were lodged by NDIS providers, meaning there could be "multiple reports about the same incident from different providers".
The commission also received 610 complaints in six months, with 61 per cent coming from the NDIS recipient or someone on their behalf.
As the Herald reported at the time, two people died in early 2017 after moving from Stockton into group homes, and staff are adamant the toll has continued to rise ever since.
The ombudsman's report says that staff in group homes need to do more to support the people they care for.
But those opposed to the Stockton closure say that a system built on "calling a doctor" or "calling an ambulance" when something goes wrong is not good enough for people with the sorts of disabilities at Stockton, Kanangra and Tomaree.
In its summary of preventable deaths, the ombudsman's report says people had died because they "did not get timely help".
"We found that disability support staff did not consistently call for emergency help as early as possible when they were concerned or had any questions about the seriousness of the person's presenting condition," the 112-page report says.
"In some matters, it was clear that the person was significantly unwell - but staff did not seek urgent medical assistance.
"We also found significant problems with the first aid and other responses to critical incidents, including staff who waited for a long time for an after-hours doctor to arrive and did not recognise the need to call emergency services."
Mrs Cuneo said Stockton's specialist staff and medical facilities had traditionally allowed most residents' problems to be treated successfully on site. She said that instead of blaming group home staff, the ombudsman and other authorities should accept the need to retain dedicated specialist health and medical care for people with complex disabilities.