On Friday I went to the public meeting at the threatened Lehmann House in Wickham Market. Here the portfolio holder for Adult and Community Services, Cllr Noble, plus officers gave a presentation explaining why the council were making big changes – including almost certain closure – to this valued local resource.
Need I mention that these changes form yet another wobbly plank in the Heath Robinson contraption that is Suffolk County Council’s NSD (New Strategic Direction)?
Just to remind you , Lehmann House offers 38 places (28 for older people with special needs because of dementia, two of which are respite places to give carers a rest, plus 10 places for permanent care to frail older people). It has a lovely kindly atmosphere, home cooking that the residents can’t praise highly enough and is deeply deeply valued by the residents and their relatives and carers. There are generally several people from Woodbridge in Lehmann House at any given time..
The public who filled the room – mainly carers, residents and relatives – listened in disbelief as the administration urged them to ” have their say on the future of Suffolk County Council’s residential care homes.”
Hardly much of a say, as one person pointed out, when there are only three options and none of them is keeping things as they are.
“People can’t complete your online consultation unless they pick one of your three options. What if I don’t want one of those options? I can only continue to the next page if I agree with you,” said one.
In fact so many people made so much fuss about this particular point that they extorted a promise from those in charge to change the online questions and allow people to disagree with the options SCC is offering. Lehmann House – 1: SCC – 0.
Oh – let me remind you of the options on offer:
- Close the homes and commission alternative services from the independent sector
- Sell all of the homes as going concerns
- Close a number of homes and transfer the remaining ones to the independent sector.
In addition to Lehmann house, the other homes tipped for closure are Ixworth Court in Ixworth,The Dell in Beccles, Wade House in Stowmarket, Davers Court in Bury St. Edmunds, and Paddock House in Eye
But why does Suffolk County Council provide no option to keep things as they are? The head of the council adult care department says “I haven’t the money to keep care homes running.” End of story. No figures are given – here or elsewhere – to back up this bold assertion. No acknowledgement that in fact it isn’t his money, but Suffolk residents’ money. No suggestion whatsoever that Suffolk residents should be accorded the respect of being in on the decision-making rather than consulted after the event!
The administration added that Lehmann house will have to close anyway sooner or later because ‘not all the rooms have en suite facilities and the next generation of consumers will want them‘ . How this ties in with their other assertion that there will be so many old people in Suffolk twenty years time that we won’t be able to look after them all I am not sure. (If they thought about it, maybe people might prefer a care home place without en suite rather than no care home place at all. And maybe people would prefer to live in the centre of a small town within easy reach of shops and sociability with easy access for relatives by foot, and bus as well as car.These questions are not included on the consultation questionnaire)
As one parent said “I am 91 years old. My daughter is 70. If she doesn’t have a place here, how can I look after her?”
Besides which, as the entire room said loudly , what does twenty years on have to do with the price of fish? what interest do these particular patients, carers and other family have in talk of alternatives to care, putting more money into supporting people in their own homes, community initiatives?
“All the people here have no alternatives. They have been in their own homes. That time is now over. What does it matter to themwhat other people do in 20 years time? We want to know what’s happening to this home now…
Is there any chance we can keep it open?”
And thats where life gets interesting.
Whilst no-one would confirm that Lehmann House would close, the answers given suggested that the staff and residents of Lehmann House hadn’t a chance of taking over the premises at a peppercorn rent (as someone suggested) because its not only that care homes are too expensive to run. They are also too valuable. SCC wants to close the six homes so they can sell them, leaving the money (presumably) to be put into funding the transfer of the other homes to the independent sector. This would appear to give them two bites at the same cherry of savings – indeed, for all I know, might turn rather a neat profit on the closing of places such as Lehmann. A quick buck – but at what cost?
In which case the closure of this treasured home may depend less on intrinsic factors and more on its value to a speculator. After all, as I said, Lehmann House IS in the centre of a small town within easy reach of shops and sociability by foot, and bus as well as by car..
So the jury is technically out. Technically.
I’ll put my money on Option 3 being the one that mysteriously is the peoples’ choice at the end of this figleaf of a consultation.