Fight to save Synergistics rehab clinic

By Michele McPherson

John Goldstone plummeted 11m on to the top of a concrete pile and nearly had his leg torn off.
Scott MacDonald was in a motorcycle crash and was left paralysed.
Now both men are fighting to save the Mount Maunganui clinic they say has been crucial to helping rehabilitate them after high running costs and funding cuts put its future in jeopardy.
Synergistics was opened by Dame Susan Devoy in October 2005 and has helped some of the Bay's most seriously injured and disabled people. But it will close at the month's end after running into financial problems that include the loss of ACC contracts.
Co-owner Lynda Wheeler has for the past year been dipping into her pension fund to pay staff but admits the clinic has been on borrowed time for two years.
The future looks grim with the Bay of Plenty District Health Board unlikely to rescue the centre.
Board chief executive Phil Cammish said senior staff had met the centre's owners twice.
"However it is unlikely that it will be able to assist him with a takeover of his business, its premises or of the equipment," he said.
Among the people fighting to keep the centre open is Mr Goldstone, who had his leg almost torn off in 2008, in an accident during the construction of Tauranga's new harbour bridge.
Mr Goldstone fell 5m on to the top of a concrete-filled pile and had to be removed by crane.
"In the last 30 months since the accident, these guys have taken me from zero to where I am now and obviously I'm walking," he told the Bay of Plenty Times.
Synergistics co-owner John Swanepoel said the centre was the only one of its kind in the country catering for people suffering the effects of spinal and head injuries, stroke, serious traumatic injuries and amputations.


With full wheelchair access, tetraplegics (paralysed from the neck down) and paraplegics (legs only) also use the physiotherapy services and fitness centre.
Among them is Mr MacDonald, 17, who became a paraplegic following a motocross accident on his friend's Te Puke property in February 2008.
Mr MacDonald said it was his physiotherapist at Synergistics, Sally Burrows - who specialises in treating spinal and stroke patients - who heard about newly-developed leg stimulators which strap below his knees allowing him to walk with the aid of crutches.
Mr MacDonald, who still regularly uses the gym, was saddened by the news its future was in jeopardy.
"It's a really good place, all the people are nice. I hope they manage to keep going and don't have to shut because they're really good and help a lot," he said.
Mr Swanepoel and his wife Ms Wheeler, both physiotherapists, moved to Tauranga from England in 2002 and began treating people in their own homes before identifying a niche for spinal rehabilitation in New Zealand.
At one point the business had eight ACC contracts which made up about 70 per cent of their business.
But government cuts to ACC in 2009 and early 2010 has meant all of these contracts had been cut.
"The new contracts meant less work for the physiotherapists and less treatment provision for the clients and that has contributed to the centre closing.
"The other major contributing factor is just the economy."
Landlord Maurice McFall has helped out with the rent but the $17,000 monthly cost, not including wages, has proved too high.
"He has supported us 100 per cent but we've now even got to the point where we can't even afford to keep the lights on," Mr Swanepoel said.
"We've fought so long and hard, we're burnt out."
Mrs Devoy said she felt awful after hearing about the looming closure. "I just think it's really sad, they're really good people, they offer something that was pretty unique, aside from just being a gymnasium. I think it's possibly because of the changes in ACC because they did a lot of rehabilitation work and probably relied on it (the funding)."
She questioned where people with disabilities and those recovering from serious injury would go now and said the owners were concerned about their clientele.
Mr Swanepoel said Ms Wheeler was going to work for the DHB while he would continue practising as a physiotherapist in Tauranga.
Chief executive of the Primary Health Organisation Roger Taylor said the organisation had a high opinion of what Synergistics had to offer, particularly to groups with specific health needs.
"It is of concern that this service may not continue to be available to these people, however at the end of the day the finances of running a business of this type have to be found," he said.
A meeting to discuss ideas for the future Synergistcs will be held at the centre in Hocking Street, Mount Maunganui at 10am tomorrow.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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