Christmas Day will be extra-special for Queenstown’s Muriel Coulter – banished to Invercargill last year as a victim of the Wakatipu’s elderly-care scandal.
The frail 85-year-old is now back in Queenstown where she belongs, thanks to a breakthrough in the long-running crisis.
Muriel spent last Christmas Day alone down south – but not this year, ecstatic daughter-in-law Janetta Coulter says.
“We didn’t get to see her last Christmas Day because it would have meant splitting the family so we’re delighted to have her close by and able to join us this Christmas Day.”
Muriel’s one of three exiled elderly brought home because of the breakthrough – and one of 14 local old folk who would otherwise have spent Christmas in Cromwell, Gore, Wanaka, Invercargill or Dunedin.
It’s all due to the upgrade of the former Presbyterian Support Services Wakatipu Home – privatised in April – which enables the newly-renamed Wakatipu Home & Hospital to take hospital-level patients.
Long-time resthome manager Janeen Holmes explains:
“We could only take resthome-level people and Lakes District Hospital [next door] took the hospital-level people – but LDH only had capacity for six [elderly patients] so when they got more than six, people had to leave the district.”
Muriel was in an Invercargill hospital-level home for more than a year, daughter-in-law Janetta says.
“It meant we were travelling backwards and forwards to Invercargill at weekends to visit her.
“Now, we’re only a few minutes along the road so we can visit on a far more regular basis – three, four or five times a week.”
Strokes prevent Muriel from speaking but Janetta feels she knows she’s home.
In Invercargill, Muriel was always tearful when Janetta and husband Phil left to drive back to Queenstown, her daughter-in-law says.
Local friends can now pop in to visit whereas the travelling was too much before.
“When she came back, you just felt she had a little bit more stimulation,” Janetta says.
Travelling aside, Muriel’s Invercargill exile was hard on Janetta and Phil in another way.
“She has days when she’s not particularly well so if you left her one week you’d think good grief, are we going to be able to see her again in a week’s time.
“Now she’s home, if she’s not well you can pop in quite regularly – next day she’s better again so you feel a bit better about that,” Janetta says.
What’s planned for Christmas Day?
“We can just pop her in a wheelchair and take her to my son and daughter-in-law’s place. We’ll just completely play it by ear,” Janetta says.
“We’ll have her out for as long as she lasts.”