by Claire Allison

When the last resident leaves Talbot Park tomorrow, it will mark the end of more than a century of residential care on the Otipua Rd site.

The closure of the Watlington Wing at Talbot Park has been five years in the making.

A new hospital level dementia care facility was required in Timaru to house residents before the doors could finally close.

That came to fruition last week, with the official opening of Lorna Home at Presbyterian Support South Canterbury’s Park Lane site.

South Canterbury District Health Board former chief executive Nigel Trainer said the board had decided five years ago to exit aged residential care, and while residents in the Hunter and Otipua wings had been moved to other facilities in 2017, it had taken much longer to be able to relocate Watlington wing residents.

“No-one else was providing that high level dementia care at that point.”

Mr Trainer said it had been a large job, affecting not only residents, but also their families and staff.

“The staff have been tremendous, keeping this place going from when we started talking about it.”

Talbot was built in 1906 as Talbot Fever Hospital, for infectious diseases patients –

the likes of tuberculosis, measles, influenza and scarlet fever.

The hospital also served as a convalescent facility for soldiers returning from world wars.

Old hand-written admissions books show patients came from all over and were of all ages, from small children to older adults. Many stayed for months, if not years.

In more recent years, Talbot became solely an aged care facility, offering hospital-level aged care, and hospital-level dementia care. Its new role is as a hub for community-based health services.

Fire broke out in January 1992, requiring the emergency evacuation of 35 residents and staff, and the consequent demolition and replacement of the fire-damaged block and a similarly-aged older block on the 3ha grounds.

While rebuilding took place, residents were cared for in Timaru Hospital until they were able to return home.

Family ties have bound people to Talbot for many years. Staff have had parents in Talbot and bereaved spouses of residents have often continued to be involved, volunteering their time and labour.

Healthcare assistant Evonne Beynon has worked at Talbot for 36 years, and both her parents were residents.

“It’s been a privilege to look after the elderly in their last place of life. We ensure they have dignity and respect. This is their home, not our workplace.”

That philosophy is born out by the photograph albums that have been boxed up in preparation for the closing of the facility.

They could be anyone’s family albums, capturing birthday parties, dress-ups, carol-singing, the many Talbot cats who have provided comfort and entertainment, visiting dogs, ponies and lambs.

The baking group, gardening group, flower ladies .. all have played a part over the years.

Charge nurse manager Angela Kerr said it was a sad time for staff.

“It’s been with us for five years, so there’s a bit of relief as well, but the end is hard. These staff have been amazing. They have stayed engaged and motivated right to the end. They make a difference, every single day, to the people who live here.”