Labor candidate Jo Smith accuses state government of condemning Morisset Hospital to 'demolition by neglect'

MESSAGE: Labor candidate Jo Smith, centre, with former Morisset Hospital employees Bill and Lorre Manning. Ms Smith wants to see more government funding to restore the sprawling and historic health facility. Picture: Supplied
MESSAGE: Labor candidate Jo Smith, centre, with former Morisset Hospital employees Bill and Lorre Manning. Ms Smith wants to see more government funding to restore the sprawling and historic health facility. Picture: Supplied

LABOR candidate for Lake Macquarie, Jo Smith, has accused the state government of condemning Morisset Hospital to "demolition by neglect".

A Labor state government would not sell the psychiatric hospital, she said.

Now she's challenging the Coalition to match the commitment.

Ms Smith said moves by the government to soon discharge more patients from the hospital moved the heritage-listed building a step closer to being sold off.

Furthermore, she called on the government to return the hospital to a condition that made it "a valuable resource" for the community, and a large employer.

"For many residents, Morisset Hospital has been their home for decades," Ms Smith said.

"It is the government's - and our - responsibility to care for the most vulnerable members of our society. To force them to leave their home and enter a world they are not comfortable with and do not want to be part of is simply cruel."

The comments prompted swift responses from the Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter, Scot MacDonald (Liberal), and the member for Lake Macquarie, Greg Piper (Independent).

Unfounded

Mr MacDonald said talk of selling the hospital was unfounded.

"No decision has been made on the future use for the Morisset Hospital site," Mr MacDonald said.

"The wellbeing of patients, families and carers will underpin any future decision for Morisset Hospital in accordance with the Mental Health State Wide Mental Health Infrastructure Plan, a record $700-million investment in NSW mental health infrastructure, unlike anything Labor was ever able to achieve."

It is the government's - and our - responsibility to care for the most vulnerable members of our society.

- Labor candidate Jo Smith

At its peak, the hospital was a major local employer and home to almost 1,500 patients. That number is now closer to 150.

Ms Smith said she was aware of plans to move more patients out of the hospital, possibly as early as July.

"This latest planned eviction of patients from Morisset Hospital brings it one step closer to being sold off," she said.

"Governments may tell themselves it is in the best interests of the patients to place them out into the community, but families have stated that the patients would prefer to continue living at Morisset Hospital. The government is sneaking this through the back door without consultation."

Mr MacDonald said the hospital now housed about 130 patients and supported an additional 80 consumers with Ageing, Disability and Home Care (ADHC) services.

HERITAGE LISTED: Labor's Jo Smith has concerns about Morisset Hospital which aren't shared by Scot MacDonald and MP Greg Piper.

HERITAGE LISTED: Labor's Jo Smith has concerns about Morisset Hospital which aren't shared by Scot MacDonald and MP Greg Piper.

"The ADHC customers are being transitioned to community care as part of the NDIS program. The Labor candidate clearly hasn't taken the time to work out how the NDIS works," Mr MacDonald said.

"This is actually a positive step towards choice and control for many patients who have spent a long time in Morisset Hospital."

Ms Smith said the state government had form when it came to selling public assets.

"To date, the NSW state government has sold off $70 billion dollars of publicly-owned property and services," she said.

That included the port of Newcastle, the former Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) building in Toronto, and the electricity poles and wires, she said.

"At the Labor campaign launch in Sydney last week party leader Michael Daley re-affirmed Labor's commitment not to privatise hospitals and to stop the sell-off of public assets," she said.

The state government had its priorities wrong, and had short-changed regional NSW, she said.

"The government needs to give Lake Macquarie its fair share and instead of doing demolition by neglect of Morisset Hospital it should once again make it a valuable resource for the community as well as a significant creator of much-needed jobs in the area," Ms Smith said.

"Many of the grand old buildings are unused and boarded-up against vandals, but are otherwise intact."

Mr Piper labelled Ms Smith's remarks about a Morisset Hospital sell-off as "unwarranted speculation" that risked the peace of mind of patients at the hospital.

"I'm disappointed that this speculation has been raised again, particularly on the eve of an election," Mr Piper said.

"I have a very good understanding of the operations at Morisset Hospital having nursed there for over 25 years in mental health and in developmental disability.

"In my time as the local member I have discussed the future of the site with various Ministers and with Hunter New England Area Health and have never been given an indication that there are plans for its closure and disposal."

Kanangra closure

Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.

Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.

Mr Piper said the previously announced plans to close the Kanangra Centre on the site might have shaped some people's view on the hospital's future.

"Some might be confused about the future closure of the Kanangra Centre as things change under the NDIS, but that centre is not directly linked to the hospital itself and the move of developmental disability services has been a policy shared by Labor and the Coalition for many years."

Mr MacDonald acknowledged the hospital was ageing, and needed some work.

"The hospital buildings have been a target for vandalism over the last few years," Mr MacDonald said.

"In November 2018, Hunter New England Local Health District took steps to close public access to the site in an attempt to limit damage to property, protect patients, carers and the wildlife.

"These are ageing buildings, and the local health district and government will work towards ensuring all current patients at Morisset get the very best opportunity to experience contemporary models of care and recovery-oriented practices."

The hospital opened in 1909 and includes dozens of structures.

Mr Piper said his opinion on the preferred future of Morisset Hospital hadn't changed: "It's my view that the land should always be kept in public hands or retained as a health facility, something I have fought for and advocated for over the years.

"With Labor raising the issue out of nowhere and without facts to support their speculation, it is ironic and somewhat hypocritical to note that the only government to have looked at closing and selling Morisset Hospital was the Unsworth Labor government."

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