Concern over the centre’s planned closure is sparking panic attacks in resident Michael Wright. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)
Michael Wright was just 22 when he fell through a roof and broke his neck, leaving him a quadriplegic.
- The Quadriplegic Centre was built in the 1960s and will close at the end of 2020
- Despite assurances from authorities, many residents remain anxious about their future
- They call other residents their “family” and see the closure as a “step backwards”
Mr Wright’s parents were not equipped to care for him after the accident so he went to Perth’s Quadriplegic Centre, which has been his home for the past 44 years.
At the age of 68, Mr Wright is still dealing with the daily struggles associated with quadriplegia.
But he is now having frequent panic attacks over what exactly his future will look like following news the centre is set to close.
“When you break your neck the new concept of care is to move [people] back into the community with their family and friends,” he said.
“But all my family and friends are dead and gone.
“All the other residents at the Quad Centre are my family and friends on wheels. I want it to remain my home for the rest of my life.”
Buildings reach ‘the end of their useful life’
The run down state-owned facility, in the suburb of Shenton Park, was built to house severely injured patients in the 1960s and for years there have been calls to replace its ageing infrastructure.
The centre once housed up to 100 people, but its capacity has been reduced over the years to 24 beds.
The previous Barnett government promised a $30 million rebuild of the centre, but that plan came to a halt with a change of government in 2017.
“The current Quadriplegic Centre buildings have reached the end of their useful life, resulting in an inaccessible and poorly designed facility that does not meet the needs of people with spinal cord injury,” a Health Department spokesman said.
“The institutional buildings currently comprising the Quadriplegic Centre will not be replaced and its status as a hospital will come to an end.”
Future accommodation options that were offered for residents of the centre included:
- living independently in a unit or house
- home sharing
- group shared homes
- cluster homes
- residential aged care for those of the appropriate age
To support people to transition into the community, the State Government last year launched the Spinal Outreach Service (SOS), which is delivered through Fiona Stanley Hospital and provides a specialist consultation and advisory service.
The Government was also building 12 new houses designed specifically to accommodate people with spinal cord injury, with an overall goal of allowing people with spinal cord injuries to live within their communities.
‘A bad dream every day’
But for 38-year-old Esperance man Glenn Neville, who has been staying at the Quadriplegic Centre periodically for respite since becoming a quadriplegic in 2007, the facility provided him with more independence than he had at home.
“I have needed respite due to the intense level of daily routine,” he said.
“I rely on people to get me out of bed, which is usually at the exact same time every day at home.
Glenn Neville says he has more independence at the centre than at home. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)
“It’s like a repetitive replay of a bad dream every day, but if I stay for a few weeks at the Quad Centre I have the freedom of breaking the routines.
“I can sleep in or stay out late with mates like your average red-blooded man and know that I will have the professional and competent care when I get back, even if it’s 2:00am.
“This alone has a massive positive impact on my mental health. Not to mention the relief that my family benefits from getting the necessary time to recoup and revitalise in my absence.”
‘We are a family’
Mr Neville stayed at the Quadriplegic Centre for respite this week, but it would probably be his last stay.
“I understand a need to rebuild it because it was built in 1969 — but it needs to be rebuilt,” he said.
“They think it’s an institution, but it’s more than that. We are a family and we care for each other.
“They are my brothers and sisters here and we have all gone through the trauma of a spinal cord injury.
“It is just like being in the military and the veterans — they have catastrophic trauma as well, and they have a place to go to called the RSL.
“Well this is like the RSL for quadriplegics here. We need a centre like this.
“I think there is a need to have the quadriplegic centre, but scaled down and modernised for 2019 and for more decades to come. This place needs to be saved.”
Glenn Neville says the Quad Centre is much more than an “institution”. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)
The Health Department said centre-based respite services were usually provided by disability service organisations (DSOs), while the SOS could provide support with finding respite care.
“The now-decommissioned motel-style accommodation at the Quadriplegic Centre was only used on 40 occasions in 2016 and on 24 occasions in 2017,” a spokeswoman said.
‘Throwing the baby out with the bathwater’
Michael Durk has lived at the Quadriplegic Centre for the past five years and said he was most concerned about remaining with the specialised staff.
“When you are young and healthy and robust then the community is the place to be, but when you have been in a chair for 40 years you require a little bit more help,” he said.
“They are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
He said the pressure of the imminent closure was growing on the residents who remained at the facility.
“People are screaming and having panic attacks in the night-time,” he said.
Quad Centre residents Michael Wright (left) and Michael Durk do not want to move. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)
Mr Durk said the Government’s concept plans for the new specialised housing had left him feeling anxious.
“They want us to share bathrooms — this is 2019 for God’s sake,” he said. “We all have individual bathrooms now in the old place. It is going backwards.”
Mr Wright said he was also concerned about retaining the same level of specialised care once the centre closed its doors.
“A couple of years ago I had a condition called hyponatremia, which is low sodium in the blood, and I went into a coma,” he said.
“Had I been living in the community that would not have been picked up and I would have died.
“But they fixed me up and I am good again, I have the Quad Centre to be thankful for my life.”
‘Like stepping back in time’
Sarah Langmead was 52 and working as a clinical research nurse in 2015, when she fainted while giving a boardroom presentation. She hit her head, dislocated her neck and broke her spine in the process.
She became a high-level quadriplegic and ended up spending two-and-a-half years at the Quadriplegic Centre.
“It was like stepping back in time. There were things in there that were still equipment from the 1960s,” she said.
“We went five days without hot water. When it rained there were just buckets all over the floors where the roof was leaking.”
Sarah Langmead says entering the Quad Centre “was like stepping back in time”, but the residents share a strong bond. (Supplied: Sarah Langmead)
But Ms Langmead said there were also positives, including the high level of experience many of the staff had and the bond shared between residents.
Ms Langmead is now on a committee overseeing the transition of people out of the centre.
She said it was her understanding the 12 new purpose-built dwellings would be nearby in Shenton Park and would be built in a cluster.
“I think for these people it is the familiarity, and I think for these people they need to stay in the same area and it will be lovely if they are near one another,” she said.
Centre ‘not the best model of care’
People with Disabilities WA executive director Samantha Jenkinson, who also spent time as a resident at the Quadriplegic Centre herself several years ago, said the centre’s closure was overdue.
“The Quad Centre is just not the best model of care anymore,” she said.
“It is not about helping people to go back to live in the community, where they might have already been living with family and friends, and that is really what the future model of care needs to look like.
“It is time for models like the Quad Centre to close.
Quad Centre residents are worried about what their future will look like. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)
“We know that is hard for people because it is a change process, but we are hopeful that the Government is doing the right thing and providing lots of options for people to be involved in the planning.
“Ultimately this has to be the way forward.”
Health Minister Roger Cook said the transition represented a new era for quadriplegic care in Western Australia.
“It is a decentralised model, but for those residents that have been at the Quad Centre for many years, that is their home,” he said.
“As a result of that we are looking to develop some of these new models of care within the same precinct that the Quad Centre is now, so that they can still feel like they are staying at their home.”
The Quadriplegic Centre is expected to close by the end of next year, once all of the residents have moved into new accommodation.