RNZ’s Checkpoint last Friday reported that Laura Fergusson Rehabilitation will be closing all services in Whanganui, Waikato and Auckland by August this year because of a lack of funding.
Clients affected by the decision understandably expressed their concerns.
Laura Fergusson Rehabilitation offers residential and outpatient care including programmes for people living with disabilities and those affected by strokes, brain and spinal injury.
Whether an organisation that has helped thousands of New Zealanders was adequately funded by government agencies is a key issue.
Laura Fergusson Rehabilitation board spokesperson Rob Small said the trust asked the government for extra funding but was told no.
“We have consistently asked the government to provide more funds for some of these services,” he said.
He told Checkpoint the reason for the service’s closure in Auckland, Waikato and Whanganui was “entirely financial”.
But the Ministry of Health’s Deputy Director-General for Disability, Adri Isbister, was grilled on this matter on Monday and didn’t budge when challenged after insisting Laura Fergusson Rehabilitation did not ask for extra help. Moreover, she said, the ministry was told of the planned closure only after the decision to close had been made.
“In my time (nine months) there has been no conversation with Laura Fergusson on the level of funding they were receiving,” Isbister said.
“If something like this gets signalled by a provider we can support them by bringing our finance team in, working with their finance team, looking at how we can think about future models of care.”
When one party says one thing and another party says another, who do you believe?
At Point of Order we are in no position to decide without being given much more detail.
Checkpoint’s Lisa Owen showed a zealous determination to try to get some of the detail we need, but her questioning of Isbister– something akin to a court-room cross-examination to break down a witness – illustrates why any good public relations adviser would counsel clients to provide Checkpoint only with a written statement and stay away from any interviews.
Owen: So are you telling us this came as a complete surprise to you?
Isbister: It did.
Owen: There were no prior discussions about difficulties with their finances and funding?
Owen: The trust has told us that they asked you for more funding and that you said no – is that not correct?
Isbister: To the best of my knowledge, no.
Owen: Why would they say that?
At Point of Order we wondered about Isbister being asked why a trust board member had said what he said and how she could do anything but venture a guess.
Sure enough, she said she didn’t know and added:
… I can’t talk on behalf of the trust.
Owen: But you can talk on behalf of the ministry so when was the last time you had a conversation with Laura Fergusson about the level of funding they were receiving?
Isbister: So in my time there has been no conversation with Laura Fergusson on the level of funding they were receiving.
Owen: How long is that?
Isbister: Ah, nine months.
Owen: So in nine months they have not raised with you any issues around the level of funding that they’re receiving?
That’s clearly what she said.
But here (for the record) is the inevitable reply along with Owen’s further attempt to nudge her interviewee into saying something to the contrary …
Owen: With nobody at the Ministry of Health at all?
Isbister: Not that we’ve been able to confirm.
Isbister then discussed the options available when the ministry is made aware of problems but explained that in this case its offers of help had been declined because the trust’s decision had been made.
Owen opened up another line of inquiry.
Was the ministry paying Laura Fergusson Rehabilitation enough for the services they were contracted to provide?
Isbister said she didn’t have the contract details and explained that support services are funded on an individual basis, geared to the needs of each individual client.
She said she understood the trust got around $4.1 million for assisting several different people. Some are long-term residents, some are coming in and out of Laura Fergusson for respite care, some are coming in for services like rehabilitation – and so on.
She didn’t have figures for exactly how many people are being provided with each service.
Owen: But do you think that was enough money for the services they were providing to cover costs?
Isbister had just said she did not have details on the numbers of clients and the nature of the services each was receiving. How could she know if enough money was being provided?
Again the response was to be expected.
Isbister: Well, without going in and doing the financial work I can’t actually say whether or not it was without having the detail in front of me …
Owen: Because obviously they have publicly stated – a board member has publicly stated – that they asked you for more money, you said no , and that the money you were paying them for the contracts they were providing was insufficient to cover costs. Are they not being upfront about that?
Isbister: I do understand that a board member said that. I would … probably refer you back to the CEO and the interview there and the factors that she said contributed to the final business decision.
Owen: I’m sorry – I’m just wondering if you could be clear with me – do you refute those statements made by the board?
Hands up any readers who is not clear that yes, Isbister was refuting statements made by a board member, if not the board?
Isbister repeated that yes, to the best of her knowledge there was no suggestion the ministry had turned down a request for more funding.
Owen: And then the other statement that you were paying insufficient funds to cover the basic services they were providing … is that a correct statement?
Sigh. See above for the answer to this.
But again for the record:
Isbister: I don’t know because I don’t know the actual funding per person. As I said, I know the bigger picture – the full amount but I don’t know what individual … was attributed to funding, so without actually getting our team in and having a look at the details I wouldn’t be able to say that.
During the next bit of the interview, Isbister mentioned having gone out to meet service providers, disabled people and their families to find out how the ministry could work with them to ensure the very best service and support was being provided.
Oh dear. This was another chance for the interviewer to niggle away and maybe establish that disabled people had been let down by a miserly ministry (which is supposed to be spending only as much public money as has been appropriated by Parliament, by the way).
Owen: If you went out to consult with the service providers last year, and you had good conversations, did you go to Laura Fergusson as part of that consultation?
Isbister: Yes, they were part of the conversation…
Owen: And there was no conversation then or no inkling at that point that they were in trouble?
Enough, we thought at Point of Order. Let’s see if the Concert Programme can bring our blood pressure down.