Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service is handing the reins of the Elizabeth Hansen Autumn Centre over to the WA Country Health Service due to failed funding negotiations with the Western Australian State Government.

The Elizabeth Hansen Autumn Centre is a residential hostel with 32 beds for seriously ill Aboriginal patients travelling with carers from remote or regional communities.

Three years ago, WA Country Health Service withdrew their regular funding for operations of the Autumn Centre.

In the three years since, over 200 patients have used the hostel, averaging a stay of six to nine months each.

Derbarl Yerrigan has struggled to fund the Autumn Centre’s operations during this time and has even resorted to introducing nightly gap charges for carers and clients.

After running the Elizabeth Hansen Autumn Centre for nearly 20 years, Derbarl Yerrigan’s Chair Jackie Oakley said the decision to end their stint as service provider was not made lightly.

“Sadly, we have been unable to secure appropriate funding from the State Government to continue to operate the Elizabeth Hansen Autumn Centre and have made the tough decision to relinquish our service role and hand the facility back to the State,” Ms Oakley said.

Oakley said Derbarl Yerrigan needs a minimum funding commitment of $675,000 a year to sustain the organisation’s position as service provider.

Ongoing negotiations for continued funding reached a deadlock between the two parties, resulting in Derbarl Yerrigan giving the Autumn Centre back to the state in order to “ensure the future financial viability” of the whole organisation.

“We are disappointed that the WA Country Health Service has not seen fit to stump up appropriate funds for Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service to continue as a service provider, but instead attempted to continue drip-feed funding to us for this important service.”

“Their heavy-handed ‘take it or leave it’ trickle funding approach is untenable and does not provide our service, our patients or our staff clarity, equity or long-term security,” Ms Oakley said.

Since 1974, the Aboriginal community-controlled organisation has been providing culturally competent health and support services throughout Perth.

“It has been an absolute abdication of [WA Country Health Service’s] responsibility to offer funding that is less than adequate. Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service should not be expected to, nor are we prepared to, operate the centre with insufficient funding any longer. This would only compromise the safety and quality of the service and ultimately impact on the very people we are there to support – the patients,” Ms Oakley said.

A spokesperson for the WA Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Ben Wyatt said the decision to stop funding the Centre happened under the last Liberal National Government.

“The Autumn Centre has continued to receive [Patient Assisted Travel Scheme] funding for patients staying there [who are] eligible,” the spokesperson said.

“A grant of $80,000 was provided to the Autumn Centre last year to assist with the viability of this particular service.”

According to Oakley, this sum was allocated to cover the cost of six beds for six months but represents just 10% of the Autumn Centre’s yearly costs.

The spokesperson also said WA Country Health Service offered $250,000 to cover operational costs and “allow time for assessment and planning,” however they are awaiting confirmation from Derbarl Yerrigan as to whether this grant has been formally accepted.

There are concerns about the Autumn Centre continuing to deliver culturally competent services once the handover back to the WA State Government is complete.

“[WA Country Health Service] will commence the transition-in process and ensure patients are supported through this process.”

“The government’s number one priority will be that patients continue to be appropriately accommodated,” the spokesperson said.

Derbarl Yerrigan’s Chair agrees patient well-being takes precedence during this time.

“We remain committed to the welfare of patients in our care and will work with [WA Country Health Service] to ensure there is minimal upheaval and distress to residents as Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service transitions out of the centre,” Ms Oakley said.

By Hannah Cross