HOW important is a functioning hospital in a regional area?
Most people would say extremely important.
And for three major Bass Coast community groups, now is the time for the community to stand up, join forces and campaign for a better deal for the Wonthaggi Hospital and other medical and health services across the region.
The Bass Coast Residents and Ratepayers Association (BCRRA), the Phillip Island Medical and Health Action Group (PIMHAG) and the Phillip Island Progress Association (PIPA) have come together to lobby the government for better medical and health services.
The volunteer groups have had enough of the neglect shown towards the region’s only hospital and are calling for action.
Number one on the group’s priority list is to fight for improved facilities and services to see Wonthaggi upgraded to a sub-regional hospital, with a complete redevelopment needed.
No more horror stories where patients are turned away from Wonthaggi Hospital and are forced down the highway to metropolitan hospitals, or skip Wonthaggi altogether for a more reliable option.
PIMHAG chairman Peter Paul said the groups are eager for the whole Bass Coast community to work together in the campaign.
“If we can get Wonthaggi Hospital up to a sub-regional hospital, Inverloch’s going to benefit, Phillip Island’s going to benefit and everybody in the Bass Coast benefits from it, because part of that is a 24/7 emergency service which should be happening now,” he said.
“We want everything to improve in the Wonthaggi Hospital so that we can bring it to a sub-regional level. Before you do that there’s got to be an agreement to have a master plan that is resourced and implemented.
“They’ve had master plans before and they’ve been ditched. They’ve never been implemented, so it’s no use the government saying to the community that they’ll do a master plan.
“You need a master plan before you go forward otherwise it’s going to be a waste of money, but the master plan’s got to decide if a new hospital will be on the same site or a new site because they’re two different models of building it.
“The second thing is the master plan’s got to decide what’s going into the hospital. “Whatever they do, the government and the opposition have to put up the funds to implement the master plan.
“We’re not interested in a master plan that cannot be implemented, we want it approved and implemented. What we’re saying is give us a hospital for the future.” Mr Paul said the groups are asking the community to stand up and have a voice.
“We’re not asking for dollars out of your pocket,” he said.
“We’re just asking you to stand up and look at what you haven’t got, look around you and find out why you haven’t got it and then let’s all get together so we can have a common purpose of benefiting this community for now and the sustainable future.”
The groups are also very clear that the campaign is in no way an attack on the staff and management of the Wonthaggi Hospital, who the groups believe are operating under difficult circumstances in regards to funding.

Health minister  supports groups
Minister for Health and Flinders MP Greg Hunt said one of his key priorities has been working closely with community groups including the Phillip Island Medical and Health Action Group, the Warley Trust, the Phillip Island Progress Association and Bass Coast Health on improving health services in the region.
He said he will support the community groups in their campaign for improvements to the Wonthaggi Hospital and increased medical services across the Bass Coast.
“I encourage the Victorian Government to provide further investment in health services in the Bass Coast region, including the Wonthaggi Hospital, to ensure residents of this area have access to the healthcare they deserve,” he said.
Mr Hunt said many improvements are already taking place.
“Construction on the Phillip Island Medical and Health Hub is already well underway, made possible with $2.5 million in Federal funding,” he said.
“I also recently announced that a new headspace will be established in the Bass Coast and South Gippsland region to provide mental health services to local young people.
“The Federal Government has provided $450,000 to establish the centre and $1 million a year in ongoing funding for these much-needed mental health services.
“The Federal Government has also provided $25,000 to Bass Coast Health through the Gippsland Primary Health Network to conduct a feasibility study into options for after-hours care at the new Phillip Island Medical and Health Hub.
“This study will investigate innovative models of care for after-hours medical treatment and will be used to enhance health services in the Bass Coast region.
“These will all play a role in improving health and medical services in the region.
“Health care is an important issue and I regularly liaise with the Victorian Health Minister, the Community PIMHAG, Bass Coast Heath and others to ensure Bass Coast residents have access to vital health and medical services and I will continue to work with these groups.
“Bass Coast Health CEO Jan Child is a strong advocate of health care in the region and we are working closely together to deliver additional health and medical services for Bass Coast residents.”

Limited facilities force people away

DESPITE continued population growth in the Bass Coast region, a local real estate agent has experienced firsthand the reluctance of elderly people to move to the area or stay due to the limited medical and health services.
Phillip Island real estate agent John Matthews, who is vice-chairman of the Phillip Island Medical and Health Action Group, has continually seen people leave the Island in search of better health facilities.
“Without trying hard, last year we had about 15 sales with people leaving the Island because of the lack of medical facilities in this area,” John said.
“I think if you went to other agencies you would get a similar number.”
And it’s not only permanent residents who are looking elsewhere.
“Another scenario we see on a regular basis is that we have quite a large portfolio of holiday home rentals, where a lot of people bought holiday homes a number of years ago thinking ‘we’ll use the holiday home then we want to retire to the Island’.
“What we’re also getting is sales of those holiday homes because people are saying ‘we won’t come and retire down here because we thought by now there would be better medical facilities and there isn’t’.”
Phillip Island Medical and Health Action Group chairman Peter Paul told another account of a family who were visiting Phillip Island.
“They couldn’t bring their mother down to their holiday home because she couldn’t leave the medical facilities at Melbourne and they weren’t prepared to take the risk,” he said.
“Basically they had a holiday home for the family but they couldn’t bring their mother down because they were absolutely petrified what could happen, so their mother had to stay at home and they had to get a carer in to help their mother.
“There are so many plays on this but it’s still all the same answer – people need the medical facilities.”