Homelessness, mental health key concerns

MENTAL health and homelessness among seniors were hot topics at a seminar in Batemans Bay this week when residents quizzed two Federal Government MPs about the shire’s medical crisis.

About 100 senior residents filled the Soldier’s Club auditorium when Eden-Monaro MP Mike Kelly and Mental Health and Ageing Minister Mark Butler held public discussions on Wednesday, only hours before the next federal election was announced.

Their visit marked part of the government’s $3.7 billion aged care reform and 10-year plan to reshape aged care.

Residents told the MPs they were fed-up with the shire’s lack of medical services, especially in mental health and accommodation.

According to census data, the fastest growing group of the homeless population was the elderly, Mr Butler said.

This is why the shire is in vital need of a supportive accommodation facility for mental health residents, says the Country Women’s Association (CWA) and Mental Health Matters group.

The two groups are calling for a facility to be built in the shire for residents with chronic mental illness who can’t live independently, just like HOME in Queanbeyan.

“We’ll call it ‘OUR PLACE in the Eurobodalla’,” Mental Health Matters secretary Neville Gallagher said.

The Queanbeyan facility was partially funded by the state and federal governments and Mr Gallagher said the same facility was needed in the Eurobodalla.

They are holding a forum in March to push for such a facility .

CWA’s Maureen Kinross said access to services and how people go about accessing services was the biggest problem elderly residents faced.

She said one or two hours a week of support for people who have difficultly living independently was not enough.

“The resources are too thin on the ground, there’s not enough aged care workers,” she said.

Uniting Care Pivot Point volunteers asked the MPs about the government’s plans for mental health services for the elderly and how it would address senior homelessness.

Mr Butler said accommodation for mental health patients was regulated by the State Government. However, he said it was something they’d identified as a challenge in every state, except Victoria.

He also mentioned communication problems between different government and non-government agencies that support mental health patients trying to get back into community life.

“It’s frustrating people that the government (agencies) don’t talk to each other and people have to tell their stories time and time again,” he said.

Other issues raised included the lack of a heated swimming pool in the shire and one woman called for more psychiatrists.

Mr Butler said the number of psychiatrists was a State Government problem, however the Federal Government was trying to educate more specialists.

Some residents were happy with the MPs’ responses, while others were sceptical.

Batemans Bay’s Joan Creaney said mental health was a big problem and the forum was “well presented” while Ms Kinross wasn’t satisfied at some of the responses.

Meanwhile, as part of the Living Longer Living Better reform package, Mr Butler said they were replacing the aged care system that was designed a quarter of a century ago.

“Over 4000 older Australians told me during community consultations that they wanted more choice and control over the way their services were delivered,” he said.

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