BHAG Newsletter – 02/12/2011


Hello members of BHAG & Happy Christmas,

This week has been filled with relief, frustration & then elation – a week that has ended with a huge ‘Whoopee’.  The “secret” knowledge that many of you have known for many months is no longer a “secret”.

For those who do not have access to the Courier Sun, this week’s edition of 30th Nov 2011 page 6, Bellingen Shire Council publicised a Development Application (DA) to expand the Bellingen Hospital – a new wing housing 14 ‘sub-acute’ beds funded by the Commonwealth Govt.

Also the NSW State Health Minister Jillian Skinner finally released her media announcement (just after 4pm on Friday 2nd) as a result of the Bellingen Council publication of the DA & intervention at the political level by your BHAG committee.  It took one phone call to Stoner’s office & the Minister’s media release was on its way!   Following is a link to the Advocate front page article in Saturday 4th Dec edition:

Attached to this email is the Minister’s Media Release. What a fabulous Christmas present for the Bellingen Shire.

The Bellinger Health Action Group (BHAG) have known about this development for some months, but without an ‘official’ announcement by the politicians & bureaucrats we would not tempt fate – there have been too many disappointments in the past.  (In 1995/96 both political parties in NSW leading up to an election promised $2 million for new infrastructure.  However after the election the govt. changed hands & all promises disappeared).  This time we were quietly confident as the funding was coming from the federal government, however we could not take any risks & speak too openly.

Now, the plans are on the table & the funding of $5 million has been announced.

This development at Bellingen Hospital will go ahead but we can contribute to ensure Council approves the DA by writing a submission to support/in favour of the DA. Below is a description of the Council publicised DA.

“INTEGRATED DEVELOPMENT PROPOSAL. The Development Application No. is 2011/DA-202, & the Activity File No. is 2011/AF-271 & is for Alterations and additions to existing hospital for sub-acute ward with associated parking and tree removal at Lot 267 DP 755557, No. 80 Bowraville Road BELLINGEN 2454.”  Detailed plans of the expansion can be viewed at Council offices or on their website under the link to ‘On Exhibition’.   Submissions are open until 4pm 22nd December 2011.  For further enquiries contact Matthew Hutchings at Council on 66557330.

You can download the DA but I warn you it is huge (6.8MB).

The Bellinger Health Action Group (BHAG) invites all of you & other interested parties to write a submission SUPPORTING this development.  Submissions close at 4pm on Thursday 22nd December 2011.

You will all remember that only two years ago the community was in fear that services would be downgraded or lost at our hospital OR worse, that the hospital would close & be converted to a nursing home type facility.

Now we have a major building project to expand the hospital – quite the opposite to what we had feared. This reinforces what we have known all along – that Bellingen Hospital is an important facility providing essential public health services to our shire & surrounding areas. Our Operating Theatre and 24 hour Emergency service have been retained, and now an expansion of 14 additional designated beds (8 sub-acute Rehabilitation & 6 Palliative Care).  Bellingen Hospital will then have 48 beds.  (4 beds will be operational in 2012 & the remaining 10 beds in 2012/13).

Historical information:  In 1994 the bed numbers were reduced from 43 to 41 & then in 1995 they were reduced further to 33 beds (current bed number is 34).  With 14 additional sub-acute beds the number rises to 48 a level higher than in 1994 & in fact higher than 1936 (38 beds) or  1944 (44-46 beds & 4 bassinettes & 32 staff).  In July 1945 there were 50 patients & who knows where they were housed!

This also means more local jobs.  It is envisaged that an additional 34.24 full time staff will be required for this new sub-acute unit a substantial increase from the current level, resulting in a total of 57.54 full time staff.   This provides a substantial boost to the economy of our growing Bellingen Shire.

Two of the current demountable’s are to be removed to make way for the construction.  The plans are for these to go to Bellingen High School as a dedicated Music Department & we have the OK from the appropriate health department for this to occur.   The High School & BHAG will be calling on the community to assist with this relocation with donations of equipment, materials, skilled & unskilled labour.  We will advise the community at a later date what the needs will be.

Historical information:  On the 13th June 2001 Terry Clout, the then CEO of the MNCAHS announced the demolition of the final remains of the old wooden building (previously the medical ward) due to its high fire risk & white ant infestation & on the 4th of October 2002, 4 demountable’s were modified & installed.  They were intended to be replaced within 3yrs. Now 10 years later 2 of them are to be replaced!

Historical formation:

Timeline of Events

1904: The oldest part of the Medical Ward still standing as constructed.

1976: Hewitt Block completed with plans to rebuild the old Medical Ward already discussed.

1984: Fire Commissioner Report condemning the Medical Ward as a Fire Hazard.

1993: Regionalisation.  Dr Paul Scown becomes GM of the MNCAHS & the Hospital Boards are “reconstituted” with each hospital sending 2 members to a total of 8.  The local boards become advisory in nature only.

1994 Early: Dr Scown removes 2 beds (43 to 41) on the pretext that 1 bed was too close to the fire exit & the other bed in ward 13, was too small for 3 beds.

1994 August: Dr Scown announces his intention to redevelop the Medical Ward with the following assurances:

That no plan would proceed without consultation & our agreement.

That under no circumstances would we go to less than 38 beds.

That all beds would be multi-purpose (that is to say NOT long-stay or Nursing Home type beds)

1994 Nov: Dr Scown & Dr Ridley advise that due to cost blow-outs we cannot have more than 33 beds in the new development.  There is no provision for a paediatric ward.

1994 Dec: BSC discusses development with Dr Scown.

1995 Jan: Drs present a case to BSC asking for support.

1995 Jan 25th: Public Meeting in Bello organized by BSC.

1995 Jan 30th: Public meeting in Urunga organized by Swinging Voters Assoc.  Mr Andrew Fraser announces the provision of a two bed children’s ward to be accommodated within the existing structure of the development.  The meeting adopts a resolution demanding a promise from the Govt. for a further 8 beds to be built + provision for a paediatric ward.  An answer is sought by Feb 27th.

1995 Feb 9th: Dr Scown announces at a press conference that he wishes to hold an enquiry to determine service needs for the Bello Shire.

1995/96: Promise of $2million disappears.

1999 Oct: Threat of conversion to an MPS, jobs lost, services downgraded, local doctors demoralized, no consultation with staff or community.

2002 Oct: 4 demountable’s were modified & installed after the demolition of the remaining old wooden building.

2008 Aug 10th: Public Forum called by concerned citizens re threat of conversion to an MPS.  Area Health allays fears and promises a new Midwifery Model of Care for Maternity.

2009 Oct 21st: Public Forum called by Area Health presided over by Chris Crawford.  All hell broke loose!

2009 Nov 11th: 1st Public meeting called by new BHAG group to respond to Chris Crawford.

2009 Dec 14th: 2nd Public meeting called by new BHAG group

2010 Feb 24th: BHAG & Council Delegation to Health Minister.

2010 Mar 17th: 3rd Public meeting called by new BHAG group to formalise & vote in a committee.

2010: Accident & Emergency under threat of closure from 11pm to 7am.  The service Remains open 24/7 due to a misrepresentation of the statistics.

2010/2011: Maternity remains under threat of closure

2011 Aug 12th: Community/Hospital Bus returned to community after ‘stolen’.

2011 Nov 30th: DA publicised in Courier Sun for expansion to Bellingen Hospital with 2 demountable’s to be replaced.

2011 Dec 2nd: Health Minister Jillian Skinner forced to ‘prematurely’ table Media Release of $5million to fund hospital expansion.  (We had been advised it was $4.7 million but we will be pleased to take the extra!)

This is a good news story & now is the time to celebrate & guarantee that Bellingen Council approves this development by all of us writing a submission in favour of the application (this will be a first for council as most submissions are objections!).  We want Council’s office to be flooded with your submissions.

BHAG will be organising a public meeting/celebration event shortly so “Watch This Space”.

We need to advise you that the above development does not include any refurbishment work on the existing buildings of Hewitt Block or Hartley House.  The roof’s still leak & Bellingen EYE & BHAG are determined to install solar hot water systems – but not on leaky rusty roofs.

BHAG continues its work to represent your call for a better local public health system.

A bigger and even better Bellingen Hospital coming soon.

The BHAG committee (past & present) wish to express our deep gratitude& thanks to all who have & continue to work towards a better local public health system for the Bellingen Shire.

We are pleased to announce that the recent fundraiser at Urunga “Down by the Riverside” raised $2,922.30.  The total amount that was raised from the jewellery raffle & event was just over $4,100.

Best wishes

Barbara Moore (Vice Chair BHAG)

Ref: Some historical data supplied with kind permission from Charlotte Rogers.