After the closure of a much-loved disability facility in Auckland during Covid-19 lockdown, one of its most successful fundraisers wants to know how it failed.
The Laura Fergusson Rehabilitation centre in Greenlane shut its doors in March, blaming financial difficulties. The centre - which provided rehab services and respite care - had been set to close in August but that was brought forward by the first Covid-19 lockdown.
There are now concerns the $40m property in Greenlane could be sold or converted into a rest home.
Dame Rosie Horton chaired the Laura Fergusson Trust Women's Committee in the mid-1980s and was also a trustee.
"I am devastated by what is happening at the Laura Fergusson Trust," said Horton, who is in Australia while Covid-19 lockdowns are in place.
"When we raised the initial funds, it was to ensure the comfort and rehabilitation of the disabled in a stand-alone facility planned to remain for many lifetimes."
The trust is no longer a fundraising powerhouse and received the bulk of its funding through ACC and the Ministry of Health. It declared a loss of $1 million in the 2019 financial year and said in its financial statements that it was not sustainable to continue providing services.
Its 2019 financial statements show a $570,000 spend on consultants, including a $94,000 payment for a report by the trust's chairman Chris O'Brien.
A letter from Paul Dale QC to the trust said that payment to O'Brien appeared to breach the trust's deed, which said trustees should not pay themselves directly or indirectly.
The letter was sent on behalf of businesswoman and city councillor Victoria Carter, whose niece previously used the rehab facility. Three weeks on, no response has been received.
O'Brien's report, and a separate report by PWC Wellington, which is likely to have been a factor in the centre's closure, have not been released.
Neither the trust's board or the centre's executive could not be reached for comment.
Carter said that in the absence of information, there were fears that the valuable Greenlane site could be sold or repurposed.
"It would be a tragedy for the disabled of Auckland if they lost a facility that did the work that Laura Fergusson was renowned for."
At the time of Laura Fergusson's closing, disability advocates said it highlighted the underfunding of the sector.
But Horton said that if the trust had been proactive and transparent about its funding problems there would have been an outpouring of support from Aucklanders.
"It was the original generosity of the Auckland community and business supporters that made the Trust facilities possible," she said.
"At the moment, the brand of the Laura Fergusson Trust has been tainted and undermined and the integrity of the brand of any charity is its major asset."
Jane Carrigan, a disability advocate, claimed she had seen documents which indicated that the facility could be turned into a rest home.
Carrigan, said that in her opinion, that would go completely against the trust's core purpose to support the disabled. She believed it was initially set up out of concern that young, disabled people were being placed in aged care facilities.
Carrigan said Laura Fergusson had "changed thousands of lives" since it was established in the 1960s.
"There is nowhere else in Auckland like it."
Ministry of Health deputy director-general Adri Isbister said the trust had not asked for financial assistance before closing and only informed the ministry of its plan to exit its $4m contract after it made its decision.
"In our experience, it's rare for providers to exit services and it's typical for the Ministry to be informed before providers any decisions are made about exiting Ministry contracts," she said.
The trust did not take up an offer from the ministry to explore ways to keep operating, and declined a meeting with director-general Ashley Bloomfield.
The ministry said alternative support services had now been found for people who had used Laura Fergusson.
Among them was Blake Brookland, 23, who has a development disorder called Cornelia de Lange syndrome (CDLS). He required 24-hour care and had stayed in respite care at Laura Fergusson two days a week.
His father Billy said Spectrum Care had now stepped in to provide respite care, but only on a short-term basis, and the family were fearful about Blake's future.
Billy said that in his opinion: "We thought Laura Fergusson would be there for the rest of his life. It's disgraceful, and they have got a lot to answer for."
Retired forensic accountant Denis Lane, who used the centre's hydrotherapy pool to improve his fitness, started looking at the trust's books after its closure.
"Last year it ran at a loss of a $1m, but if you take out consulting fees, allowance for impairment of goodwill, and depreciation, the loss is not as significant.
"I think there's a major overreaction, and someone needs to take a stand."