Royal commission told disability homes spent $2 per person a day on food

Two privately-run disability homes in Melbourne were spending just $2 per person a day on food before the state government seized control and commissioned aged care provider Wintringham to take over their management.

Wintringham staff told the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability of their alarm at conditions at supported residential services Sydenham Grace and Gracemanor, which were closed this year.

Gracemanor (formerly Meadowbrook) in Melton South closed this year after accusations of poor conditions and bullying emerged.Credit:Paul Jeffers

Wintringham chief executive Bryan Lipmann said his organisation spent $24 per person a day on food, whereas the facilities he took over were spending just $2 per person.

Wintringham staff found the front door of Gracemanor padlocked at night, which raised fire danger concerns, boxes of opened and unopened mail, and foul-smelling bedrooms.

“You have no idea what these places smell like,” Lipmann told the royal commission.

He said he was amazed by the lack of scrutiny of supported residential services, which are state regulated but privately run.

There are 114 registered supported residential services in Victoria, which house about 4000 of the state’s most vulnerable people with a disability or mental illness.

The two-day royal commission will examine whether supported residential services are financially viable, whether they are adequately regulated, and whether some proprietors are double-dipping by using residents’ National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) funding to pay for services already covered by room and board fees.

The commission follows an investigation by The Age last year that highlighted widespread problems and poor living conditions in some supported residential services.

In September 2020, the Victorian government placed another supported residential service, Hambleton House in Albert Park, into administration after a COVID-19 outbreak revealed shocking conditions, including uncapped needles, mattresses stained with blood and spoilt food.

Former Hambleton House resident Denise Morgan told the royal commission it was “cold as ice” inside the home.Credit:Jason South

The royal commission heard that in the 12 years that supported residential services legislation has been in place, there has been no successful prosecution under the Supported Residential Services Act, and only very recently had the first prosecution been initiated.

Former Hambleton House resident Denise Morgan told the royal commission it was “cold as ice” and “I was sick there the whole time”.

“We had bedbugs in the bed and it was biting me all over,” she said.

Jacob*, a 60-year-old man who lived in Gracemanor in Melbourne’s north-west until it was closed in July, said the food was “horrible towards the end”.

“If someone made a mess in one of the toilets [on the weekend], the staff would leave it until the cleaner came in on Monday,” he said.

He once went on a hunger strike, losing 13 kilograms, after repeatedly complaining that an electricity fuse kept shorting, cutting off power to seven rooms.

“[The people running Gracemanor] were improper to have any position in the care industry,” Jacob told the royal commission.

About 1600 people who live in supported residential services receive funding from the NDIS.

Hambleton House has come under the spotlight during the royal commission into supported residential services.Credit:Jasoon South

Bel, who pays $920 a fortnight to live in a supported residential service, told the commission she had slept on a bed without sheets for weeks at a time.

“I often think I would rather live on the streets than continue to live at an SRS [supported residential service],” she said.

Elizabeth Bennett, QC, counsel assisting the royal commission, said Bel had received $63,000 from the NDIS to support her with her daily care needs.

But she said the NDIS service provider who charged these “substantial funds” had the same address as the supported residential service.

Bennett said the royal commission would examine “what steps are taken to ensure that residents are not paying twice for the same service or paying twice and receiving no service at all”.

Victorian Public Advocate Colleen Pearce said she had written to the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission raising concerns that residents who received funding from the NDIS were being charged separately for services they already paid for with their accommodation fees, such as assistance with showering.

“I am never really clear when I write to the quality and safeguarding commission exactly what action they are taking,” Pearce told the royal commission.

*Not their real names.

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