By Gav Ross
RESIDENTS in Grantville, Corinella and surrounds are calling on Bass Coast Shire Council to rethink a business arrangement with the community’s much-loved nurse practitioner clinic.
The program, run by Bass Coast Community Health Service (BCCHS), ceased operating at the end of June after there was no renewal in government funding.
Since residents from the Waterline area started booking appointments with nurse practitioners at both Grantville and Corinella in July 2011, the clinic has become highly valued, with many locals saying they prefer going to see the nurse practitioners over visiting a regular GP.
One of the nurse practitioners had taken steps to keep the clinic running at the Grantville Transaction Centre as a private business from July onwards.
This would not be affiliated with BCCHS, which has now merged with Bass Coast Regional Health to form the new entity Bass Coast Health.
This private practice initiative has stalled, however, after council declined to offer a reduced rental rate on a room at the Grantville Transaction Centre.
The decision was made behind closed doors following the conclusion of the last public council meeting on June 25.
Word spread fast throughout the community, with a Facebook campaign page popping up within days.
Council’s acting community and economic development director Antoinette Mitchell confirmed the council had offered a 12-month license agreement on a consulting room at the Grantville Transaction Centre to a private business.
“Council decided that the rent would be based on the current rate for non-community organisations (as per the council adopted pricing policy), which is $40 per day,” she said.
“A private business, which would include a private nurse practitioner, is not considered a community group and therefore would need to pay the non-community rate.”
Leadbeater Ward councillor Clare Le Serve said “council’s hands were tied” over the matter because a precedent would be set if the council offered reduced or free rent.
“Other medical services could expect the same thing if this was offered,” she said
“It is courageous for the nurse practitioner to continue as a private business, but there are council guidelines concerning what’s a private business and what’s not-for-profit.
“Council’s policy is clear – reduced rents are only offered to not-for-profit organisations such as community groups and sporting clubs.
“It has been a stressful situation for everyone involved, but we are working toward a solution.”
Cr Le Serve confirmed the nurse practitioner had appealed the recent council decision and the matter would be dealt with ‘in camera’ once again on July 16.
Council CEO Paul Buckley pointed out that the nurse practitioner program was never funded or delivered by council.
“The only way council was involved was by providing the room,” he said.
“Whilst council appreciated the value of this service to the community, it was not previously provided by council.”
Coronet Bay mother-of-two, Christine Slavin, is one of many demanding that the council reconsider its decision.
“Losing this service will be detrimental to our community,” Ms Slavin said.
“I am very concerned for the wellbeing of local families, the elderly and the ill as access to healthcare will now be limited and the remaining service will be over-stretched.
“The council need to consider and act on the needs of the community, (which were clearly expressed when it was announced that public funding would cease), instead of their own agenda.”
Kernot resident Barrie Stewart said losing the “vital” service was a tremendous loss.
“I haven’t been to a regular doctor in two years,” he said.
“The nurse practitioner would help with everything I needed.
“And unlike regular doctors, she would always sit down and explain results to you properly.”
Locals have also started a ‘Save Our Nurse Fighting Fund’, which aims to raise funds to support the clinic if and when it re-opens.
Campaigners meeting outside Grantville Transaction Centre last week also agreed in unison that they would support a user-pays system.
Previously, all nurse practitioner appointments were bulk billed.
Onus on council
DESPITE the nurse practitioner program being a federally funded initiative, Flinders MP has called on Bass Coast Shire Council to keep the clinic open.
“I strongly urge the council to find a way to allow the nurse practitioner clinic to remain open at Grantville,” Mr Hunt said.
“The clinic is a tremendous community asset and we’ve been actively working for several months to try and find a way to keep the clinic open once the previous government’s pilot funding ran out.
“It would be a real blow to the local community to lose that service.
“We approached the former BCCHS requesting that it provide the necessary equipment on a peppercorn rental to allow the clinic to remain open.
“I commend the former CEO of the BCCHS, Ormond Pearson, on his support in this regard.”
Mr Hunt said he will continue working to find appropriate accommodation for the clinic.