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State seizes control of supported care homes over abuse, ‘uninhabitable conditions’

Ms Kaur denied her facilities were unhygienic and uninhabitable. “Cleaners were coming every day and there was not a single COVID-19 case over the last two years at either facility – and Melton was a COVID hotspot.”

“Is that not proof that the facilities are maintaining hygiene?”

Gracemanor (formerly Meadowbrook) in Melton South.Credit:Paul Jeffers

Ms Kaur also denied her facilities had hindered access by NDIS and other health services, noting NDIS officers had visited without proper notice at the height of COVID-19 crisis.

She said there was no evidence to back allegations of forgery or falsification of documents. “If the department has proof I would like to see it.”

Ms Kaur also accused the department of racism against supported residential services providers of Indian and Sri Lankan backgrounds. “Officers are racist. I am very sure about that,” she said.

Opposition NDIS spokesman Bill Shorten said NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds must urgently address how an NDIS provider could keep operating despite reports of gross mismanagement.

“Any provider who has been found to have abused its registration in the NDIS must be removed,” Mr Shorten said.

“As usual, a state government has stepped in when the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission has been missing in action.”

Mr Shorten said the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission must explain what action had been taken against Grace Disability Services and why it continued to operate without repercussions.

“The potential for conflicts of interest have been raised as an issue a long time ago. I’m staggered the Morrison government has done nothing to address the problem.”

A spokesperson for Senator Reynolds said the safety and wellbeing of NDIS participants was of the utmost importance and anyone with concerns about an NDIS provider should raise them directly with the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission.

A spokesperson for the commission said it was aware of the matters and was investigating. “As there is still an active investigation underway, the NDIS commission is unable to comment further,” the spokesperson said.

More than 4000 of Victoria’s most marginalised citizens live in 116 supported residential settings across the state.

In September 2020, the Victorian government placed another notorious supported residential facility – Hambleton House in Albert Park – into administration after a COVID-19 outbreak revealed shocking conditions, including uncapped needles, mattresses stained with bodily fluids, broken windows and spoiled food.

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Last year The Age revealed the government had been repeatedly warned over years about conditions at Hambleton House.

The introduction of the NDIS has complicated matters in the sector. With annual funding packages that can be worth more than $100,000, the scheme has turned some of Victoria’s vulnerable citizens into valuable commodities.

Watchdog agencies, health professionals and families are concerned that in the broader industry the NDIS has led to the potential for conflicts of interest, rorting and exploitation in supported residential services.

The Victorian Public Advocate, Colleen Pearce, has previously called for systemic change to supported residential services, saying the state government had failed to act on Hambleton House until the COVID-19 outbreak, despite her office raising concerns about the home for three years.

On Wednesday, acting secretary of the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing Ben Rimmer said appointing administrators to Sydenham Grace and Gracemanor was “a very significant action” by the Human Services Regulator to protect residents living in the two facilities.

Hambleton House in Albert Park was closed after a COVID-19 outbreak.

Hambleton House in Albert Park was closed after a COVID-19 outbreak.Credit:Jason South

“The regulator has moved with absolute determination to protect the welfare of residents,” Mr Rimmer said.

The Human Services Regulator was continuing to investigate and working with the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, the National Disability Insurance Agency and Public Advocate.

Last year, the regulator conducted 158 inspections and issued 110 compliance notices to 24 supported residential services.

Mental Health Legal Service CEO Charlotte Jones said she was delighted for the residents of Sydenham Grace and Gracemanor.

“We’ve tried to highlight our concerns around them being financially exploited and physically exploited for that financial gain, which ensured that they couldn’t actually in any way move on with their life,” Ms Jones said.

She hoped the state government’s intervention would put other supported residential services on notice.

Ms Jones also called on the federal government to address the conflict of interest that occurred when a disability accommodation landlord could also be an NDIS provider.

“We think that not only reviewing that conflict of interest, but ensuring it cannot happen is paramount.”

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Dr Liz Dearn, a social researcher who has recently completed a PhD at RMIT University on supported residential services and the NDIS, said there were concerns about the potential for exploitation of residents in these settings.

“The lack of transparency and monitoring in the NDIS context gives rise to risk,” Dr Dearn said.

“We are yet to discover how widespread this problem is. But all evidence we have to date suggests that it is a very serious concern.”

In September, local Melton MP Steve McGhie called for Gracemanor (formerly Meadowbrook) to clean up its act or close.

He told The Age that in his three years in State Parliament he had heard various complaints about health and welfare issues at the Melton South facility.

“I don’t believe this facility meets appropriate standards for housing these residents,” Mr McGhie said. “It should be brought up to standard and if it can’t be, it should be closed.”

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