Letters: Share your thoughts

Call to ‘scrap’ hospice plan

Writing 170 years ago, the great English author Charles Dickens had a keen eye for human frailties of the recurring kind. He exposed them in the characters he invented for his novels.

One such was Mr Micawber who lived with his family in a state of financial misery – because of his bad habit of living beyond his means. But he travelled hopefully: “Something will turn up” he would say. Poor Mr Micawber went to debtors’ prison.

But his lesson has not been learned by the folk behind the Southern Highlands Community Hospice. They still believe that benefactors will come along to build their hospice (SHN May 9, 2018). They have been fundraising locally for eight years and have only $2 million to show for it.

To get where they are now, some $4 million has been pulled from our local charity sector in cash and in the value of goods sold in the five hospice shops. Already, $2 million has been spent on rent, wages, consulting, and other expenses of running the show.

Forget about the construction costs for a moment (last estimate $11.3 million). The real challenge is to raise $2 million a year, every year, to run a ten-bed hospice.

All along, government has refused to support the hospice idea. The company has belatedly abandoned its go-it-alone bravado. Thanks to an expensive feasibility study (which has not been released for public scrutiny) their chairman now effectively concedes that government help is essential. But government policy at all levels in NSW favours home-based care for the dying, rather than institutional care. This policy is in line with what most of us say we want – which is to die at home.

How much was raised last year from hospice shop trading and donations? Only about $230,000, after taking out interest earned on investment of the building fund.

Yet still they press on. The landlords collected $212,000 in rent last financial year, and this year’s rent will bring the total so far to close to one million dollars. And that’s just for rent! The good-hearted volunteers in the hospice shops must also marvel at the funds forked out for the full-time salaried management. 

For every dollar squirrelled away, the hospice people spend two dollars on expenses (64 oer cent of trading revenue to be exact). Not one cent has been used to pay for anyone’s end-of-life care.  Extravagant outlays for rent, a manager’s salary, and other operating expenses burn up the donated wealth.

Meanwhile, other local charities that also depend on selling donated goods are suffering. Donations that would otherwise have come their way have escaped. And let’s not forget the truly needy in our community who have traditionally looked to those charities (such as Sallies and Vinnies) for immediate practical help.

Let’s scrap the glitzy architectural drawings, the unaffordable bricks and mortar, the 39-space underground parking. Let’s wind back the inefficient shops and the crazy overheads. Let’s stop badgering government for money that should be invested in bettering our proven system of end-of-life care. Bowral’s public hospital, Harbison, and the services promoted by Southern Highlands Cancer Centre (such as CanAssist) are more deserving of our bounty.

And let’s find another use for the time and talents of the well-meaning people in our community who have been inspired to support the care of the dying. The Palliative Care Volunteer Program is just one example.

Only then will “something” turn up - something that’s truly worth having.

Garry Barnsley

Alternatives ‘not so attractive’

“Establishing a community hospice in the Southern Highlands is long overdue,” says Dr Michael Barbato, a palliative medicine specialist. Unfortunately community members with no background in medicine or health issues continue to work against the hospice project.

Palliative Care Australia estimates that while 70 per cent of Australians wish to die at home only around 14 per cent actually do so.

When carers find they are unable to cope with their patients as they near death at home, the patient must be admitted to an institution. For the fortunate few, the institution will be a nearby hospice. But not in the Southern Highlands! Here the alternatives are not so attractive. Patients may be admitted to a public or private acute care hospital, or a nursing home. 

Generally, acute care hospitals are noisy and busy places, not able to provide a peaceful home-like environment and often do not have specialist palliative care staff. 

Currently the hospice b is awaiting final approval of the Development Application from Wingecarribee Shire Council. After this, the cost of the building will be determined, benefactors will be approached to cover this cost, and on-going donations will be sought to contribute to the cost of running the hospice.

Running costs for the hospice will be covered by money from the health funds, bequests, donations and supplemented by proceeds from the shops. Consolidation and renovation of the Hospice Shops is now proceeding, and has been very well received by members of the community.

The Southern Highlands Community Hospice will provide the tranquillity, care and support for both patients and family members, so needed in those final days. The hospice will complement and extend existing palliative care services, not replace them. 

How can the detractors substantiate that there is no need for a hospice in the Southern Highlands?

Margaret Rosenthal and Niki Kallenberger

Board Members, Southern Highlands Community Hospice