Port Stephens MP Kate Washington has renewed a call to stop the transfer of residents from Tomaree Lodge, Kanangra and Stockton Centre during the coronavirus, after learning that the movement of some residents had been brought forward a fortnight to this week.
Ms Washington backed the concerns of worried families in a Newcastle Herald article on March 20.
She said she had twice written since then to the Minister for Disability Services, Gareth Ward, to halt the transfers, which began in the second half of last year.
"To be continuing to transition these vulnerable residents into the community during this public health crisis is not only irresponsible, but negligent," Ms Washington said.
"If they require hospitalisation during this public health crisis, health professionals may not even be able to respond."
The Herald has also been told of staff shortages at some of the new group homes, and of difficulties in getting GP appointments for things that were routinely done by staff doctors and nurses at the large residential centres.
But the minister told the Herald that 120 residents from the three centres had already moved to group homes, and that the transfers would continue in "a safe and timely manner".
"I'm not interested in playing Kate Washington's political games," Mr Ward said.
"Our department is working closely with all stakeholders to undertake extensive planning for every resident before they transfer, which involves abundant caution, care and compassion. This includes being linked with the appropriate medical care."
Ms Washington said the transfer process itself was a risk while coronavirus was about, but she was also gravely concerned about the health and welfare of the residents in the new homes, based on the reports that were coming to her office.
"Unless the residents are being moved to areas closer to family and it is the family's wishes that these moves occur in the midst of a public health crisis, I see no justification for it," Ms Washington said in a letter to Mr Ward.
"At a time when people are being urged to stay in their homes, reduce travel and reduce contact with others, your government is requiring some of the most vulnerable people in NSW to do the exact opposite.
"I urge you to immediately pause the transition of the residents until the risks posed by the COVID-19 crisis pass. Alternatively, I seek your assurance that those residents being transitioned will come to no harm as a result of this decision."
Ms Washington said the 21 remaining residents at Tomaree Lodge were ageing, with complex disabilities, and many were non-verbal.
"At Tomaree Lodge they have opportunity to spend time outdoors, walking the site freely being cared for by experienced staff," Ms Washington said.
"These staff know their clients well and know when they are unwell, sometimes just a change in a sound they make.
"If their transition occurs as planned, they will be moving into a community setting increasing the risk of their exposure to the virus.
"They will have carers that do not know them, with less experience and expertise in managing their complexities. In group homes, day trips are currently banned and will be for the foreseeable future. On every measure, the risks are increased and the outcomes potentially fatal.
"As one staff member said to me: 'When everything else is going into lockdown, why would these transitions continue?''
The disability sector has been calling on federal assistance to deal with the coronavirus and on Friday, Health Minister Greg Hunt announced a coronavirus advisory group for people with disabilities.
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