Above:  Defence force personnel help remove furniture and carpets from flood affected RSL Care’s Fairways

By Keryn Curtis

Queensland aged service providers are still cleaning up and working together with make-shift facilities, while many elderly residents remain under different rooves following the natural disasters of the last week.

Particularly badly hit was the central coastal city of Bundaberg where retirement village and aged care facility residents at one RSL Care site were evacuated by helicopter. 

Fairways Retirement Community in north Bundaberg, the worst hit of RSL’s 29 communities, went underwater when the Burnett River broke it banks, resulting in the mass evacuation of 108 residential care residents.

RSL Care CEO, Stan Macionis, said it was especially difficult because the directive to evacuate was received quite late and at short notice.

“We only had a couple of hours, so initially staff had time to bag residents’ clothes but unfortunately by the time the choppers arrived, things had progressed and it wasn’t possible to accommodate the clothing,” he said.

Mr Macionis said residents were initially evacuated to a range of locations including Friendlies Private Hospital, Gracie Dixon Residential Care Facility, Tri-Care Residential Care Facility and the Agro Trend Showgrounds.

“The front end of the process is controlled by emergency services so there was no control over where they were first taken. Then the IMT [incident management team] took over and contacted other providers who we knew were not flood affected and also some hospitals.  

“So residents are now in Tri-care and Blue Care and Churches of Christ Care residential communities, as well as other RSL Care communities that were not affected in Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Maryborough and Brisbane. Some have been accommodated short term in the Mater hospital and a small group – 17 residents – were able to return to homes and families, supported by our home care teams. 

“Of course our staff have followed residents to these different places to ensure some continuity for residents.”

Above: Debris in a common area affected by flooding at RSL Care’s Fairways.

Mr Macionis said he was impressed and heartened by the response shown by RSL Care staff and the not-for-profit sector, which immediately came together to assist those in need.

“These things bring out the best in people. In terms of our staff and colleagues and other service providers, it has been heartening to see people rise to the occasion.  

“Our Bundaberg staff, some of whom have been impacted by the floods themselves, have been coming in and working.  They have also been very supportive of each other, sharing shifts and necessary time-off.

“And we’ve had additional staff arriving from Brisbane, Cairns, the Gold Coast and Toowoomba.  So we have sent extra staff to the other facilities.  And we have had to increase the home care for those in the home,” Mr Macionis said.

“We have strong military ties and we talk about our core values of courage, mateship and service.  We have really seen that in action in the last week,” he said.

Above: Sunshine for the big clean-up at RSL Care’s Fairways Retirment Community in Bundaberg

The road ahead

RSL Care is now planning to relocate the residents still in homes and in the hospital to a new 30 bed wing, not yet being utilised, at RSL Care’s Sunset Ridge at Emu Park, a community on the coast east of Rockhampton.  

“We will need staff there too.  We couldn’t take people there at first because we had to wait for the river to peak.  But we will be taking 30 residents there in the new wing, on top of the existing 90 residents at the site. 

Mr Macionis said a welcome addition to the recovery efforts at Fairways Retirement Community was the arrival of the Defence Force on Friday 1 February. Around 30 members of the army began the clean-up, removing water-soaked carpets and debris and clearing out food from unpowered refrigerators.

“As an organisation with strong ties to the defence community, the army’s presence and heavy-lifting provided a much appreciated boost to staff morale. We thank them for their efforts,” he said.

Now the local ‘mud army’ – the name given to the huge teams of volunteers that came to help clean up at the time of the 2011 Brisbane floods – has moved in to assist with cleaning up the Fairways site.

“Volunteers from all around Bundaberg have been cleaning out the mud. The outside of the building looks quite good now, and the lawns have been mowed. Now they’re moving inside,” Mr Macionis said yesterday. 

While 64 of Fairways’ 76 retirement living units were essentially unaffected, enabling residents to begin moving back in, just when the residential aged care facility will be fully operational is less certain.

“The biggest issue at the site right now is infrastructure – in terms of water and electricity and to a lesser extent, sewerage.  There is water, but it is not potable.  And there is electricity but it is intermittent. We need to convert the hot water from gas to electricity because the gas pipeline into Bundaberg is broken,” said Mr Macionis.

“This is the biggest flood in recorded history in Bundaberg and the city has been devastated.  At Fairways, we are north of the river in the area that has been very, very badly affected.  

“In the last major flood just had a little bit of water damage.  This time we have had 1.5 metres of water in the worst affected part of the site but a lot of it has had 200mls which can do a lot of damage. 

Several other RSL Care communities were also impacted by the weather events of the last week, including Tantula Rise in Alexandra Headlands, Bongaree in Bribe Island, Carrington in Parkinson, Chelsea in Maryborough, Galleon Gardens in Currumbin, Fairview in Pinjarra Hills, Pioneers in Longreach, Milford Grange in Ipswich, Inverpine in Murrumba Downs, Sapphire in Hervey Bay, Moreton Shores in Thornlands as well as Ipswich and Nerang HomeCare.  

Mr Macionis said each suffered varying degrees of water damage and power outages but all of these communities were operational within hours and days of being impacted, with all HomeCare services resuming as usual.

“Our thoughts and efforts continue to remain with all affected residents, their families, our staff and volunteers.

“I again thank everyone for their support and offers of assistance in our time of need,” he said.

Follow this link to a story from last week about Blue Care’s Queensland flood response.

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