June 2011 – BHAG Chairperson’s report to Public meeting and AGM

The last report I wrote for a public meeting was in July 2010 and our work as the committee of the Bellinger Health Action Group has since then been much less stressful and exciting and much more methodical and requiring consistent attention.

The re-development of the hospital with significant federal funds is sort of just slipping in – it is a result of the Rudd Health Reform and it came to Bellingen, I believe for two reasons:

  1. This community had made a huge amount of noise about wanting to have a good hospital. Remember Andrew Heslop asking us to be a very squeaky wheel? That was in late 2009 and we have kept that wheel squeaking all this time.
  2. Our doctors have their ears to the ground and have written a timely and well put-together expression of interest for this funding.

Sadly, we are not having a party to celebrate because our politicians have not “officially” announced the funding and no stone has been laid just yet. But this is a once in a generation situation and we should be very happy about it. And I think that we can be quite proud of our achievements, give ourselves and each other a pat on the back.

The committee of BHAG has been a very pleasant group of people for me to work with and I think we can say that we became friends over this time. Unfortunately, not all committee members elected at the inaugural meeting could continue to contribute and we had to accept resignations from Solveig Larsen, Jen St Clair, Gai Stern and Maratana Hope.

I thank all members of the BHAG committee sincerely for their commitment and their contributions over the past year. When I agreed to be chairperson for BHAG, I knew that I had a strong, supportive and reliable group with me and that made my job much easier.

The BHAG committee have worked on a number of fronts:

Firstly, we developed some policies to guide the way we do things and they are about: –  BHAG members who are not committee members attending committee meetings,

–          how we govern our expenses and

–          about the organisation of and insurance for events.

a) Committee meeting attendance

The meetings of the management committee of the association are open to members of the association to attend.

Members of the association wishing to attend committee meetings should notify the secretary 48 hours prior of their intention to attend and specify the topic of their address.

Members wishing to address the committee meeting are asked to adhere to a time of no more than 15 minutes to present their address. If a longer time is required, a special committee meeting may be necessary.

Members of the association attending committee meetings do not participate in committee discussion and decisions.

b)  Expenses

This policy states that one committee member is authorised to commit to expenses of up to $ 150. Two committee members can authorise payments up to $ 500 and expenses over that amount have to be decided by the committee meeting.

c) BHAG public events

1. The management committee welcomes proposals for public events from BHAG members, subject to:

a) a proposal being made about the contribution that the event would make to BHAG’s Objects of Association, including detaisl of likely costs and revenues and a commitment to acquit all expenses transparently;

b) lodgement of the proposal at least two weeks prior to the monthly BHAG management committee meeting;

c) the event being considered a priority by the management committee, taking into account other demands on BHAG’s funds; and

d) the event being eligible for insurance cover under BHAG’s public liability policy.

2. Only events endorsed by the management committee may use the BHAG name in the promotion of a public event.

BHAG has a contact list of 1399 at present.

The following issues kept us busy right through the year:

  1. The hospital bus
  2. Maternity Services
  3. Community participation / Hospital priorities
  4. Securing Community Donations for Bellingen Hospital
  5. Hospital gardening volunteering
  6. Fund raising
  7. Informing the community
  8. The bus:  Barbara’s teeth went into this story and she didn’t let go until she found out exactly what had happened when and who paid for what. The story emerged in such a way that no-one could pretend that the bus didn’t belong to the Bellingen Community and the bus was eventually returned to Bellingen. BHAG had significant support for this from our local member, now deputy premier, Andrew Stoner. After consulting through our website and our local paper, the most appropriate action was found to be the transfer of the bus to Community Transport.


  1. Maternity Services

This situation is still unsatisfactory, as you have heard from Trevor. BHAG has placed advertisements state-wide to attract midwives to Bellingen and we are very lucky to have two GP’s who are able and willing to provide obstetric services.  But we still don’t have the required number of qualified midwives to fill the roster for the time of a birth plus the 24 hours following the birth. As a result, recruited midwives have left again. BHAG would like to be involved with the development of suitable model of midwifery care, which is attractive to expectant mothers, midwives and doctors and will be funded by the Health District.

  1. Community Participation / Hospital priorities

We have written a detailed submission to the Local Health Plan for Bellingen Hospital with emphasis on the priorities BHAG has agreed on. We are in contact with the new Executive Officer, Stewart Dowrick, on these issues and some of us have briefly met with the Chairman of the Local Health District Board, Warren Grimshaw. Our request for a formal meeting with the chairman has not been warranted to date, and as is common, this is an issue that requires persistence on our behalf.

Our close working relationship with the Medical Staff Council allows us to keep in touch with what is going on and to pursue matters from the community’s side of the table.

  1. Securing Donations

Another of those things for persistence. We raised the problem of donations – items that are purchased from community donations become the property of the Health Service and can be re-located to other hospitals or can be sold with the funds going back into general revenue. We have made it clear that we (the Bellingen community) are not happy with that and that we are looking for an improvement. So far, no acceptable arrangement has been offered. As a result, we find we have two options: a) Put a plaque on the donated item

b) Purchase something that can not be moved, such a solar hot water panels.

  1. Hospital Gardening – that is the one group of volunteers that has continued to be active and their hands-on contribution is still coordinated by Barbara, who will tell you about that separately after me.
  2. Fund-raising

While this has not been a priority once we secured a very comfortable fighting fund, we still had to deal with the diamond ring that was donated following the hospital dance last year. Barbara has followed this through and  got an official valuation for the ring as well as a number of other jewellery pieces donated by local artists. Have a look, they are lovely. Our friend Bryan Duffy took these professional photos for us.

We will be able to launch the raffle once we have a date for the raffle to be drawn – hopefully at another Harry Martin party by the river in Urunga in August / September. We need lots of raffle ticket sellers and would appreciate your support in this. The aim is to sell 4000 tickets. Please put your name on the list tonight with your contact details, if you are able to help.


How will BHAG funds be spent? This question is to be answered by the incoming committee. We have heard tonight that the federal funds promised for Bellingen Hospital will not be permitted to be used to repair existing infrastructure. The outgoing committee has discussed and agreed to recommend to the new committee to spend BHAG funds on a solar hot water system for the hospital – this would be something that can not be moved to another hospital and will contribute to the sustainability of the hospital. However, if the leaking roof will not be replaced with state funds, then BHAG may want to consider fundraising for a new roof before considering a solar hot water system.


  1. Keeping you informed

This was always high on our agenda and for almost twelve months, I managed to write and place weekly press releases. Our local papers and journalists have been very supportive in this and I would like to express our appreciation to the Bellinger Courier Sun and to Ute Schulenberg, journalist at the Coffs Coast Advocate. – Thank you. And special thanks to Fiona Croskill who edited my media releases so quickly each time I emailed something to her – often with short or no notice.

As well, we have managed to keep a website going. Firstly, we had help with that from Peter Livingstone and this was followed by Sebastian Syder – thank you to both of them for their help.

David Wallin has been looking after our member emails – always sending mail-outs promptly and reliably and dealing with incoming mail as well. David tried to explain to me how it was done (this is a gmail group) but kindly offered to keep doing it when I just couldn’t fit it in.

The save-bellingen-hospital facebook page has 3651 people who “like” it and many of them place comments on the page. This has also been a great contribution to the toolkit for  communication between BHAG and the community.

So, wrapping up, let me say that it has been a very steep learning curve for most of us

– understanding the issues, understanding the changes in hospital politics and administration, learning who is who and what they do, etc.

–  being the spokesperson and the media person and the chairperson all in one was a bit much for me at times. Journalists calling and putting me on the spot or in front of a camera & microphone, making sure all information went out on time and correctly, designing websites and learning how to update the content is all interesting and would be thoroughly enjoyable if only it didn’t have to fit into the one day of the week when I didn’t have to go to work.

A good chairperson prepares a meeting agenda draft ahead of time, sends it around and amends it if necessary. A good chairperson also keeps meeting times to a reasonable length and makes sure everyone is heard and their opinions are considered. I think I was a bit better at the chairing of meetings than the preparation. Thanks to Barbara I was usually on my toes – she is a very good backseat driver!

As many of you know. I have decided to step down from the job. I thank you all for your trust and encouragement and thank especially the outgoing committee for their support and patience, their commitment, their time and the knowledge and skills they contribute.

Pia Dollman
29 June 2011