Ian Fitzgerald, 91, of Kilkivan had to put his wife into care, forcing her to leave her beloved Kilkivan, and he says he will feel guilty about that until the day he dies.
Ian Fitzgerald, 91, of Kilkivan had to put his wife into care, forcing her to leave her beloved Kilkivan, and he says he will feel guilty about that until the day he dies.

Kilkivan fights back against old people being forced to leave

LIKE countless small rural centres across Australia there are no aged care homes in Kilkivan, Goomeri, Widgee or Woolooga, so when local residents reach a certain age and need a certain level of support and care, they are forced to leave.

EARLIER STORIES ON THIS ISSUE:

Kilkivan aged care push gathers steam

Community confused as Kilkivan aged care push delayed

This can be devastating not only for them, but for their families, and Kilkivan woman Rosie Fitzgerald wants her town to have a community owned aged care facility to cater for aging residents.

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Rosie’s mother Pauline had to leave Kilkivan to go into care, and her grazier father Ian is now 91 years old and anxious about facing the same fate.

Rosie Fitzgerald wants to set up a community owned aged care facility in Kilkivan
Rosie Fitzgerald wants to set up a community owned aged care facility in Kilkivan

An ABC Landline article this past week has put the issue in front of the nation.

Kilkivan recorded a population of 713 at the 2016 Census, and has a median age of 50. This is a local problem that is only going to get worse.

Mr Fitzgerald, who is still at home and active on the farm, told Landline he would feel guilty until the day he died about having to send his wife away when she needed serious care some years ago.

“I am a wimp,” he said. “I have lived here far too long and never got away enough so I have been grafted on to this place and leaving it would be very traumatic

“When you are my age one of the great pleasures I get is just looking out at this green or just going down to the creek bank and sitting there having a grin at a herd of cows.”

Ian and Pauline Fitzgerald of Kilkivan in happier days. Because there were no facilities available in Kilkivan, when the time came that Pauline needed care, she had to leave her community.
Ian and Pauline Fitzgerald of Kilkivan in happier days. Because there were no facilities available in Kilkivan, when the time came that Pauline needed care, she had to leave her community.

The first thing needed is a block of land; and the most likely source of this will be Gympie Regional Council.

“To date, council’s position is that they need to see the results of a feasibility study and a detailed business plan, which I agree is the prudent way to proceed,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

“But I don’t have the skill set to do that myself and we can’t afford to get professional firms to do it. A Mexican stand-off?”

Australian Campdraft Australia National Finals at the Kilkivan Showgrounds on 4-7 September 2013. Photo Tanya Easterby / The Gympie Times
Australian Campdraft Australia National Finals at the Kilkivan Showgrounds on 4-7 September 2013. Photo Tanya Easterby / The Gympie Times

Ms Fitzgerald has used her connections to enlist the help of QUT post-grad marketing students who will examine the strategic steps required to get the project off the ground.

“So while they do that research, etc, I need to keep the community support strong and keep the issue in the minds of the politicians,” she said.

Kilkivan Pub - Picture: Shane Zahner
Kilkivan Pub - Picture: Shane Zahner

“I think we need all three levels of government to agree that they will provide the support (land from GRC + $ from state and feds) required if we can get the feasibility information and business plan to show that the concept will do the following:

“1. Provide a sustainable future for all age groups in Kilkivan – by providing employment and allowing older locals to remain in the area they love, even if they are unable to remain in their (often high-set, old timber) homes, which are expensive to retrofit

“2. Eventually, prove that this sort of integrated approach provides a more efficacious use of the health and aged care dollar for government – we want to set up a service provider business as part of it, which should deliver improved services to those in-home package holders within a 30km radius (we want to stop the current ridiculously inefficient delivery where people drive all over the area for maybe half of the package value).

“We also have a federally-funded (until 2024 so far) group of health professionals (who bulk bill) already operating well in Kilkivan so we have that service as a medical ‘safety net’. I wouldn’t be proposing this concept if that service wasn’t here because it would be reckless to encourage people to stay without some in-town medical backup.

Kilkivan Museum - Picture: Shane Zahner
Kilkivan Museum - Picture: Shane Zahner

“I see the mental health benefits of this concept as being really important – if people can be more confident about their long-term viability in the community they want to be in, that’s got to translate into better mental health for them – and their families. Guilt is a huge element when a loved one has to be ‘sent away’ for care. This concept wouldn’t have helped my mum – she was very high care when she left the farm. But most of the oldies I know here are low care and they want to stay here.”

Kilkivan & District Community Care Association president Rosie Fitzgerald speaks at a meeting earlier this year on the aged care issue.
Kilkivan & District Community Care Association president Rosie Fitzgerald speaks at a meeting earlier this year on the aged care issue.

Ms Fitzgertald said the concept could most likely be self-funding operationally once it was established.

“The other thing we could use is a private benefactor who would help fund the initial, expensive infrastructure – without locals losing control. The last thing we want is a commercial operation taking over, apparently if that happens, there’s the risk that people from anywhere could gain places and the locals might be shut out – that would be disastrous because this is for locals from the Kilkivan, Goomeri, Woolooga and Widgee areas (the old Kilkivan Shire boundaries – KSC purchased the land way back so we think that’s only fair.)

Wide Bay MP Llew O’Brien said the Federal Government did not own or operate aged care facilities, but it did allocate funding to aged care service providers for residential aged care places and for capital works, “like we did at Cooinda (in Gympie)”.

More than 100 locals turned up for the Kilkivan & District Community Care Association meeting earlier this year.
More than 100 locals turned up for the Kilkivan & District Community Care Association meeting earlier this year.

“In 2019-20 we have committed $21.4 billion in funding for aged care, and we’re continuing to invest more every year so this will rise to $25.4 billion in 2022-23. Since I was elected in 2016, the Liberal and Nationals Government has allocated more than 720 new aged care beds in Wide Bay, including at proposed new facilities.”

“The Kilkivan community has identified a need so its next step should be to work with a provider to expand into Kilkivan, or form a community organisation and register as an approved provider of residential aged care to enable them to apply for funding.

Member for Wide Bay Llew O'Brien.
Member for Wide Bay Llew O'Brien.

“Information is available here at https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/aged-care/providing-aged-care-services/funding-for-aged-care-service-providers/aged-care-approvals-round-acar

“I’m happy to support an application for funding but as aged care is a very specialised area I’d need to be sure that either the proposed provider, or the committee, have the skills and experience to be able to deliver the facility and oversee its ongoing operation and provision of residential care.”