A local committee is calling for a newly announced drug and alcohol unit for Goulburn to be fast tracked, given the "urgent need."
Southern Tablelands Action Recovery Committee (STARC) member Rod Boyd said the group first met with Health Minister Brad Hazzard in October 2017, requesting funding for a 20-bed drug and alcohol rehabilitation unit. It followed several ice forums in the city.
Mr Boyd said despite positive signals at the time, the committee hadn't heard anything from Mr Hazzard until last week when he visited the city to announce the allocation of $4.5 million over the next three years for a 10-bed facility. Liberal candidate Wendy Tuckerman hoped it would be operational by 2020-21.
"We're happy with the funding but we're concerned that we haven't heard back from Mr Hazzard since that meeting and by the statement that it won't be operating until 2021," Mr Boyd said.
"We say the service is needed now. In my professional life as a criminal lawyer I see people every day who need this (service)."
He told the Post he often tried to help clients get into drug rehabilitation but they were regularly sent to Canberra, Sydney, the Central Coast and even interstate. Often they waited three to six-month and had to ring almost daily to check place availability.
The committee emerged as a focus group from the Community Drug Action Team, which was formed in 2016. Its sole purpose was to secure a rehab unit.
The group gathered relevant statistics, including court and hospital data, which they took to Mr Hazzard.
Their case was bolstered by a coronial inquest into the death of David Veech at the Tarlo Intensive Residential Support Service in September, 2017.
Mr Veech had died from Fentanyl toxicity at the Lifestyle Solutions-run facility in March, 2016. Deputy State Coroner Harriet Grahame found that supervision at the facility was "lacking," that it was an inappropriate place for Mr Veech from the start but also that a longer-term drug rehabilitation plan would have been more appropriate, despite a doctor's best efforts to achieve this.
She recommended that the Southern NSW Local Health District (NSWLHD) liaise with NSW Health to ask that "urgent consideration be given to the need for increased capacity for residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation beds in NSW."
"This is particularly places that are suitable for patients exiting the criminal justice system with a history of aggression, ambivalent response to treatment or known lack of insight, and for patients with a mental health diagnosis," she said at the time.
A NSW Legislative Council inquiry also found in August 2018 that there was a need to improve residential drug and alcohol rehab services
Mr Boyd said the NSWLHD had assured his committee in early 2017 that Mandala House at the Bourke Street Health Service would be made available for the facility. A preferred provider had found the building to be suitable.
At that time the Health District was leasing the building from the Sisters of Saint John of God. Ownership has recently been transferred to the Catholic Church. However Ms Tuckerman said Mandela House could still be leased for the unit but it would also depend on the expression of interest process.
Cr Carol James also welcomed the funding, saying it would make a difference to the region across many sectors, including the courts.
"It's something we've needed for a long time and we've worked hard for it," she said.
"A residential facility is very important because people need a stable environment to recover...This was always about getting help for your son or daughter because there was nowhere for them to go. Then they would turn back to the habit."
Cr James said she was sure a 20-bed facility could be achieved but agreed it needed to come sooner.
"This (funding) is a start and maybe we can grow it in future," she said.
The Post has forwarded questions to Mr Hazzard's office about the funding delay and the possibility of a larger unit.
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