COLLABORATION is the key to the success of Foster’s health precinct. That was the message from the representatives of the three key health bodies – South Gippsland Hospital, Foster Medical Centre and Prom Country Aged Care – who addressed South Gippsland Shire Council last Wednesday.
South Gippsland Hospital CEO Peter Rushen, Dr Owen Casson, who is one of the directors of the medical centre, and PCAC CEO Rhett McLennan, gave their public presentation to seek council assistance – but not funding, they hastened to say – for the health precinct’s continued growth, specifically for the development of a shared car park.
They emphasised how much they have achieved already by working together and suggested that if they had Council on side to help in such areas as planning and engineering or with sourcing funding, it would be all the better.
Mr Rushen began by saying that Foster had been fortunate in attracting an enormous amount of money for health care in recent years which had enabled it to establish a health precinct with an enviable reputation. The five acre site in Station Road includes a hospital and community health centre, a medical centre (private health practice) and a residential aged care facility.
Mr McLennan said that PCAC had attracted $12.707 million of mostly federal government funding to establish a new building, due to be completed around mid-October. It will combine the 30 beds of Banksia Lodge with the 30 from Prom View Lodge at Toora in the one place to meet the standards required for the 21st century (which Prom View Lodge will shortly not be able to meet).
PCAC, said Mr McLennan, is currently in talks with other groups, such as Parkinson’s Victoria, about the feasibility of renting out space in the old Banksia Lodge facility, which it is intended will stay in PCAC hands and be used for complementary health.
In response to a question from one of the councillors, Mr McLennan said that PCAC was still looking for a buyer for Prom View Lodge. “Ideally we would like another health organisation to purchase it – or at the very least lease it.”
“It is an exciting time for all of us to have this collaboration,” said Dr Casson. He explained that the medical centre is a private business which fulfils a public service with the doctors visiting the hospital and the PCAC residents. He pointed out how important it is to have impressive health infrastructure in place to attract staff to the medical centre.
Mr Rushen told Council that the local hospital dates back to the 1940s but has had numerous upgrades. It has 16 beds and offers a range of services, including emergency care, radiology, obstetrics and theatre, so much so that the need to travel for medical procedures is largely avoided. South Gippsland Hospital is one of the biggest employers in the district, employing more than 100 people, many on a part-time basis. It is locally staffed, locally supported and valued enormously.
“We have realised that by working in collaboration we can achieve more [in the health facilities which form the health precinct]. Lately we have been looking at ways we can share services such as cleaning or kitchen,” said Mr Rushen.
He said that the popularity of the health precinct has led to some degree of traffic congestion in surrounding roads – Station Road and Jones Street – and difficulties in parking, which are only likely to worsen as the precinct develops. A car park is planned for the middle of the site, on mainly hospital-owned land (with a small parcel contributed by the medical practice), between the community health centre and the new aged care facility. Council help, said Mr Rushen, would be greatly appreciated in ensuring this project goes ahead smoothly.
The shire councillors were clearly impressed by the presentation. Mayor Kieran Kennedy’s immediate response was that the shire’s directors should meet with the health precinct representatives to investigate how they can help. Steps were taken straight after the presentation to arrange a meeting, including a site tour.