There are enough beds in Whanganui for the 41 Nazareth rest home residents to move to, but there are concerns an aged care crisis is looming if more facilities aren't built soon.
New Zealand Aged Care Association CEO Simon Wallace said the projection for demand going forward showed Whanganui will need another three facilities and another 60-100 beds in the next 10 years.
"Particularly with the ageing demographic that's coming through as we get into the early part of 2020, unless there's more capacity that comes through into a place like Whanganui then there will be a shortage of beds," Mr Wallace said.
According to the latest data from the TAS survey completed at the end of 2017, there were 652 beds and 533 residents in aged residential care in the region, an occupancy rate of 81.7%. This is considerably lower than the national occupancy figure of 86.9%.
The loss of Nazareth's 46 beds represents a 7 per cent reduction in the supply of beds, meaning Whanganui's occupancy rate is now around 85.6 per cent. There will be just 12 rest homes in Whanganui after Nazareth closes.
Whanganui District Health Board business and planning manager Tracey Schiebli said the DHB was confident there would be no crisis in the aged care sector.
"The Whanganui District Health Board's current demand for age residential care beds is significantly less than the national projections, including the projection for 2020.
"The DHB is confident there will be enough available beds for the near future. Obviously we watch trends closely."
In Whanganui, 20.9 per cent of the population is aged over 65, compared with a national average of 14.5 per cent.
The national elderly population is projected to continue to grow - by about 230,000 from 2021 to 2031, according to Statistics NZ.
The aged-care crisis has previously been referred to as the "grey tsunami" - the swelling of the elderly percentage of the population and their care needs.
The average age at admission to aged residential care is now around 84.
The Ministry of Health said in a statement that DHBs have the responsibility of ensuring there are sufficient aged residential care beds to meet changing demand in their district.
"To date they have achieved that with new builds meeting the increased demand," the statement said.
Whanganui's Nazareth Rest Home had to close because it was running at a loss, The Wanganui Chronicle has previously reported.
Mr Wallace said it is very sad that a facility like Nazareth was being forced to close.
"It's also about consumer choice, we don't want to see places like Nazareth - a religious based organisation close, because it provides an option for consumers which is now lost in Whanganui."
Mr Wallace said many regions around the country are facing the same problem, including the Bay of Plenty.
"No crisis" - DHB
In a statement on March 16, Whanganui DHB Service and Business Planning general manager Tracey Schiebli said the WDHB is working closely with Nazareth and service coordination agency, Access Ability, to ensure the process of finding residents a new home is as smooth as possible.
"We understand Nazareth's residents and their families will be feeling anxious, and that the closure will be unsettling for our community in general, but we want to provide assurance that our district has sufficient beds available," Ms Schiebli said.
"Rest home bed capacity in the Whanganui district is good," Ms Schiebli said.
"So for Nazareth's 41 residents this means there's space in other Whanganui aged care facilities that caters to the level of care they need."
Minister of Health David Clark was unable to respond before deadline.
National Party Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said that like the rest of the country, Whanganui has a growing senior population, so it is important that the Government makes appropriate plans to support the infrastructure needed to house them.
Mr Woodhouse said that while in government, National supported the aged care sector by negotiating and funding the $2 billion pay equity settlement that raised wages for care and support workers to try and make aged care more attractive as a career.
"The Labour Party have raised expectations on funding and services in health and it is now up to them to deliver, including ensuring that the increase in demand for aged care services is met. We'll be keeping a close eye on this issue, especially in some of the regional areas," Mr Woodhouse said.
Psychological impact of the move
Mr Wallace said that no one should underestimate how difficult the move will be for Nazareth residents.
Director of the Clinical Psychology Programme at Canterbury University Professor Martin Dorahy said that the move would likely have a very significant psychological impact.
"Firstly moving out of a familiar environment where they feel safe and being moved to a different location will be quite anxiety provoking for most people and probably very unsettling," Professor Dorahy said.
Professor Dorahy said relocations are generally very difficult for people but they can be a lot harder for elderly because they often don't have their family around.
"Then often elderly have set routines where they see family and do activities, these can be thrown out and significantly disrupted," he said.
"Then trying to find where things are in their new facility, especially for those that are quite elderly and have neuro-degenerative problems, for example dementia - things outside of their normal routine become very threatening and very frightening."
"So I suspect it will be quite an unsettling transition for the majority of people in those settings even without dementing processes happening," Professor Dorahy said.
Immigration rules concern ACANZ CEO:
Mr Wallace said currently the sector relies on a high number of migrant workers. The previous National government introduced a policy which means workers on temporary visas must now re-apply annually and after three years have to leave New Zealand for at least a year.
"The issues with that is that we've trained these people up, we've invested in these people, they're really good at what they do and we've got them because we cant find the right New Zealanders to do the job," Mr Wallace said.
Minister of Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway said he had asked immigration officials to re-examine National's changes, but the policy will remain in place for now.
Any changes would be unlikely until later this year as the government works through immigration priorities.
"Our priority is to better match migrant worker skills to the industries, including the aged-care sector, and regions that need them. We will work with industries and regional interests to achieve this," Mr Lees-Galloway said.
Mr Wallace said even with the improved pay, Kiwis weren't lining up to work in aged-care and often they weren't that suitable.
"I think we don't put enough value on the role and the value of looking after our old people and that's work that we all have to do. I think it's a culture thing and I think its about valuing care and that job," Mr Wallace said.
"A lot of our migrants have a great care ethos that arguably not all New Zealanders do have, that's just a fact of a matter."
The manager of New Vista rest home in Whanganui Robin Williams said it had been difficult, at times, to recruit New Zealanders into aged care.