State authorities have urgently intervened in the operations of a retirement village run by a convicted criminal after the facility’s underpaid staff downed tools leaving sick and bedridden residents to fend for themselves.
Police were on site on Friday to ensure the safety of the residents at Berkeley Living in Patterson Lakes. It is understood the police conducted welfare checks last weekend, with no resolution.
Residents stranded: Berkeley Living retirement village at Patterson Lakes. Photo: Paul Jeffers
The state Health Department and Consumer Affairs inspectors were also called in to ensure the health and safety of the residents.
A 97-year old woman with high needs, a woman with Alzheimer’s and a younger man with quadriplegia are a few of the 16 residents left stranded until authorities, including the federal Department of Health, were informed by Fairfax Media of the situation.
Walkout: Family members of residents of Berkeley arrive after staff walked off the job. Photo: Daniel Pockett
Late on Friday, a government spokeswoman said people with a disability were relocated to an appropriate facility.
A neighbour who has a friend living at the village said the situation reached crisis point when staff couldn’t pay their bills.
“The cook was getting paid $200 for two or three days a week. They are getting less than $10 an hour, in dribs and drabs,” the neighbour said.
The urgent action from state authorities came as the lack of regulation in the retirement village sector in Australia reached crisis point.
Concerns: Police are investigating the wellbeing of residents at Berkeley Living. Photo: Daniel Pockett
Berkeley Living is linked to Stephen Snowden, a bankrupt and a convicted criminal with ties to underworld figures.
Last Week, Fairfax Media revealed Snowden had been accused of not paying out more than 30 families who have had apartments at Berkeley Living sold to new owners without ever receiving any of the sale proceeds. The residents are believed to be owed millions of dollars.
Staff from Berkeley stopped working at 2pm on Friday after months of being paid less than $10 an hour – well below the award rate – and some weeks not getting paid at all.
Some of the staff live on the property and have been supplying food to help feed the residents. Many are understood to have been fearful of repercussions if they had acted sooner.
The village is operating as a respite centre under the directorship of a 25-year-old man with little prior business experience and a criminal record for drug possession.
Snowden told Fairfax Media on Friday that the staff were lying and that he was the victim of a series of conspiracies to make him look like “a psychopath”.
“When I try and talk to them [the staff] they hide,” he said. “There has never been any lack of food without any people stealing.”
Last week Snowden confirmed he was stepping back into the business and called the families who had spoken to Fairfax Media “scumbags”.
Snowden grabbed headlines in 2013 when his aged care business Cambridge Aged Care was under investigation from the Department of Health and the Victorian Coroner for poor care of residents.
The same year Snowden was chased by Westpac in the Supreme Court of Victoria for allegedly misappropriating $13 million of the bank’s money.
Until June 2012, Cambridge was providing welfare services to Berkeley retirement village, including meals and support services.
The walkout left the state government scrambling to resolve the problem late on a Friday.
A spokesperson for the Premier’s office said “Agencies are working with the facility to ensure patients and their families are supported during this difficult time. We have asked for health assessments to be conducted as soon as possible.”
The incident follows the state government releasing its response to an inquiry into the retirement village sector in Victoria where it said it was still considering whether to introduce an ombudsman for the sector despite consumer groups and the inquiry recommending one be introduced.