Nullica Lodge Reactivation Project

Nullica Lodge Reactivation Project

The growing housing crisis across the Bega Valley shire and RSL LifeCare’s decision to close its residential aged care operation at Nullica Lodge have prompted discussions about the future of the facility which is currently empty.

The Eden Recovery and Resilience Alliance (ERRA), a collaboration between the Eden Community Access Centre, Eden Visitor Information Centre and Eden Chamber of Commerce and other interested members of the community, is keen to understand whether there is potential to return Nullica Lodge to its original status as a hostel providing affordable accommodation for seniors and supported accommodation for people with a disability.

ERRA is leading discussions and advocacy about the options for the future of Nullica Lodge. On Tuesday 6 December 2022, ERRA will host a public meeting with the purpose of bringing the community together to understand the status of the facility and the options being considered for its future.

RSL LifeCare has been invited to attend the meeting to outline its proposed future model for the facility and the factors involved in its decision-making process.

BACKGROUND AND HISTORY

Nullica Lodge is a 27-bed facility originally built and operated by the Eden community via a Crown lease. Over its 27-year history the facility has transitioned from community operation to management by first Anglicare (years 2009 to 2014) and then RSL Lifecare (years 2014 to 2022).

On 1 August 1992 a 40 year Crown lease was established between the State of New South Wales and The Community for the Eden District Hostel for Older and Disabled People Inc. with the permitted use being – “Hostel for Older and Disabled People”.

Nullica Lodge, a 13 bed hostel, was officially opened on 17 November 1995 to provide a service for elderly residents no long able to live at home. A Development Application was approved in 2009 to build an additional wing of 14 dementia-specific rooms, bringing the total to 27 beds.

The facility was operated by a community-based organisation “Nullica Lodge Inc.” until Anglicare Canberra and Goulburn became the operators in 2009. Ownership passed to RSL LifeCare in June 2014 under the name Roy Wotton Gardens.

ORIGINAL MODEL: CLASSIFIED AS LOW LEVEL OF CARE

Originally Nullica Lodge was run as a “low level of care” facility regulated by the Commonwealth Aged Care Act (1997). A low level of care in this case meant ‘carers’ (rather than nurses) providing help with activities of daily living such as cleaning, personal care, meals etc.

WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THE COMMUNITY HANDED OVER THE OPERATION OF NULLICA LODGE

ERRA’s understanding of what happened next is as follows, based on anecdotal information shared by community members:

  • The community relinquished the operation of Nullica Lodge after new aged care requirements were introduced in the 1990s and the community felt it no longer had the capacity to manage the service in line with capital improvements required.
  • The committee handed over responsibility for the operation of the facility to Anglicare in the understanding that Anglicare would manage it for the long term. The transfer of the lease was conducted for the price of ($1). Anglicare ran Nullica Lodge as an aged care facility before selling the business to RSL LifeCare who also ran it as an aged care facility.
  • In 2021, RSL LifeCare announced that it was no longer financially viable to operate the facility and that it would be closing its operations. RSL LifeCare has said it is looking at a number of options including selling on the lease which still has 10 years of a 40 year lease to run.
  • Nullica Lodge is now vacant, creating a gap in the provision of aged and disability housing in Eden.

WHAT OPPORTUNITIES NOW EXIST FOR REOPENING NULLICA LODGE?

ERRA is responding to calls from community members and from those operating in the local social housing and homelessness sector to explore what opportunities exist to reopen Nullica Lodge.

Both Anglicare and RSL LifeCare have said they are interested in entering into negotiations with a community group to operate a sustainable business model.

We understand RSL LifeCare will not sell-on its lease unless it can recoup the original purchase cost, which is a figure not known to us.

RSL LifeCare has not communicated with us about the model it is considering, other than to let ERRA know that one option is to apply for changes to permissible use under the Crown Land zoning deed.

1. ERRA’s community-focused reopening: a return to the original self-care hostel arrangement

ERRA, and other local social housing advocates for reopening the facility, favour a return to an affordable hostel model for independent seniors and supported accommodation for people with disabilities. 

This hostel model for independent seniors does not fall under the aged care legislation and meets current Crown Land zoning deed requirements.

The target market is vulnerable, elderly people who need to downsize or leave public housing accommodation arrangements i.e. elderly aged pensioners, NDIS clients.

2. Anglicare’s proposed model

Previous operator, Anglicare NSW South NSW West & ACT, has shared the model it would be willing to operate -‘a number of rented affordable housing self-care units for over 55s and people with a disability’. Residents would seek external support for care, food and maintenance.

Anglicare would simply rent residents a room.

To achieve this each unit would need to be refurbished and the kitchen facilities upgraded. Anglicare’s preferred position is for the community to raise the money to upgrade the facility to the required standard.

There would be no government funding involved in running the facility, but money is needed for the upgrading.

OPTIONS FOR THE EDEN COMMUNITY

Take over the lease and acquire funds to upgrade the facility, then:

1. With a new non-profit organisation or under the auspices of an existing non-profit, the community could form its own committee and manage the facility. The lease cost, short and long-term maintenance and capital improvements would be covered by the rent.

2. Community could sub-lease the facility to a not for profit (Anglicare, RSL LifeCare)