QUEANBEYAN man Frank Presutti says he's struggling to cope and care for his wife Doreen following recent cuts to dedicated dementia services at the Queanbeyan Hospital.
At least two dementia nurses have ceased their roles at the hospital in recent months, leaving families like the Presuttis without local dementia support in the community.
Mr Presutti, 73, suddenly found himself not just a husband but also a carer for his wife when she was diagnosed with dementia three months ago.
He told The Queanbeyan Age it was a whole new world for the couple, who knew next to nothing about the disease and the support available. However he said regular home visits from the dementia staff at Queanbeyan Hospital had been a great assistance.
"It was [the service] beautiful. I could not complain. They come to talk to us, they gave us information and phone numbers to reach the right departments - everything we needed to know about dementia," he said.
He said he'd come to rely on the nurses and the fact that local care and support that could come to his home was only a phone call away. However Mr Presutti was moved to tears when explaining that Queanbeyan Hospital staff had recently left.
"It's very stressful," he said. "When I found out these people were gone I was a mess for weeks. I thought, 'what am I going to do?'"
The Queanbeyan Age was able to confirm the service drop this week, however local NSW Health communications staff at the Hospital said the two vacant positions were a result of resignations.
"At present there are two vacant Dementia Behaviour Assessment and Management Service roles within the Queanbeyan Mental Health Service. These vacancies have arisen from staff resignations," a local Health spokesperson said.
"Dementia services in Queanbeyan are appropriately resourced to meet the current demands of the communities it serves."
However Mr Presutti along with State upper house MP Steve Whan, who's been investigating the matter, both said the positions were made redundant.
"I've been told that they were redundancies and that they we're not given an option not to take them," Mr Whan said.
Mr Presutti also disputed the claim and said the nurses had told him they were "sacked."
However a representative of the federally-funded Alzheimer's Australia, who also run some dementia support services in the region, said the loss of the nurses would leave a gap in dementia services for Queanbeyan residents.
Regional manager Barbra Williams said her organisation had increased its level of support in Queanbeyan as a result of the NSW Health changes, but noted Alzheimer's Australia had a limited budget to do so.
"We are aware of the changes and we're doing our best to fill the gaps where we can," Ms Williams said. "But a lot of the services that were lost from NSW Health were services specifically to support people with dementia and changed behaviours, and that's not what we're specifically funded to do. So that's where the gap is going to be."
Local member John Barilaro sought clarification from NSW Health on the situation this week, and Mr Barilaro insisted there had been no cuts at the hospital.
"I have been made aware by the Southern NSW Local health District that there are two vacant dementia care positions in acute mental services at the Queanbeyan Hospital. These are vacancies and are not cuts to the service," he said.
"As the local member I will continue to work closely with the NSW Health Minister and the SNSWLHD to ensure that adequate and enhanced dementia care services continue to be made available to those in need in this region."
However his upper-house rival Steve Whan was critical of Mr Barilaro over what he called a lost service in Queanbeyan.
"The Liberals and Nationals have sacked Queanbeyan's specialist dementia workers and I'm also advised that other staff assisting dementia patients have also lost their jobs," Mr Whan said.
"The cuts have left dementia sufferers and their family's distressed and isolated, with only vague promises of non-government services to replace them.
"Queanbeyan was in a good position having people who were able to work with patients and families on a holistic basis, because they were part of the health system, they linked seamlessly with all other services including occupational therapist and other services.
"This is a false economy. These services helped to keep people living in their own homes - if they end up in a hospital or nursing home it will cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars more per year," he said.