Standing room only at packed town meeting

Peter Hill

A STANDING room only public meeting on Yarram on Monday evening highlighted community concern over the scarce availability of medical care in the town, and frustration with the lack of information from Yarram and District Health Service’s administration.

The meeting witnessed the first public steps of newly-incorporated body CHRISY Inc to foster community support for revitalisation of the town’s medical resources and to attract more doctors to the area.

Convened by Kim Hatton, initiator of CHRISY, the meeting attracted more than 50 residents, medical staff and nurses not contracted to YDHS, and members of the YDHS board and administration.

Ms Hatton outlined how Mallacoota, a town smaller than Yarram and much further from major cities, had managed to attract doctors, nurse practitioners, and funding for a new medical centre, during the past 18 months.

Ms Hatton explained she had pulled together a group of people with whom she had worked with in her previous career in health administration, to establish the incorporated body.

“We didn’t want to have a committee, the town was to be the committee, so this is the first meeting,” she said.

“You put the issues to us — we all try to solve them and we report back to the community and are totally answerable to the community.

Ms Hatton called for the meeting to present questions the community wanted answers to, a list of existing problems and a list of wants, qualifying that by emphasising there would be no answers on the night.

Yarram’s long-term health plan, a perceived lack of leadership at the health service, the perception the YDHS board wished to turn the hospital into nothing more than an aged care facility, the perceived lack of any NDIS planning and mental health services, the inability of patients to access script renewals and the need for nurse practitioners, were issues raised.

The ongoing question of why one of the town’s doctors was not credentialed to admit patients to the hospital was once again raised, despite the issue having been explained at previous public meetings with the YDHS board.

It was also questioned whose responsibility it was to attract doctors to the town and if the community would support a private practice, as in Foster where there are at least nine doctors serving a much smaller population.

Concern at the lack of continuity of care and the overwhelming demands placed on the existing doctors was raised by Steve Balhorn.

“Doctors need time with their patients,” he said.

The elephant in the room, YDHS’s inability to attract and retain doctors, was alluded to by Yarram pharmacist Geoff Neilson.

He pointed out that barely 18 months ago the community had met with the YDHS board over the issue.

From that meeting, he said, came the offer of two rural training doctors to work with YDHS.

“Both of them are doctors who trained rural doctors, Charles (Luis) said to me Geoff, I can get three doctors here tomorrow, but that didn’t eventuate. The offer was there, to in be in Yarram, train doctors ready to come.

“They don’t care what the wage is as long as they get good training; it’s not a matter of money, it’s a matter of training and respect,” he said.

“OK that was the story with Charles, Charles is no longer coming here, he serviced Crossley House when no one else would out of his own generosity, he lost money on that deal.

“We have a new doctor here, Greg Ivanoff, and fortunately Dr (Hamid) Quibian, and I wish he would be a part of YDHS, but I can only ask a question that everybody needs to consider and it is, why Greg says to me Geoff, I can get doctors here tomorrow?”

“We have this cloud of saying we can’t break confidentiality, we are not allowed to talk about it, because we are all under contract,” Mr Neilson said.

“I can only ask the question and say to everybody here, there are doctors that want to come here, but who is going to encourage an environment where they can bloom? — and I can only leave it at that.”

“We have a government practice, government run, that would seem to be an ideal place for it to happen, for that’s where we are going to get political support.

Mr Neilson pointed to the recent government initiative Rural Country.

“There’s money . . . $25 million of it — I can only ask has the funding been applied for, have we got the money, is it being put into doctors?

“We’ve got lots of money for grounds and buildings and beautiful architectural designs.

“Have we got the vision for the doctors and the training of the doctors so this community gets good medical service?

“Under that want (on CHRISY’s list), I want nine doctors like Foster and I want all the services that go with doctors.”

Mr Neilson’s speech drew sustained applause from the crowd.

The failure of the Yarram Medical Centre, an arm of YDHS, to provide coverage for the annual leave of its doctor was questioned by other audience members.

The community’s inability to access the plans for YDHS’s much-anticipated Integrated Health Care Facility and the lack of information on progress with planning and construction was questioned, as was the need for the facility.

“Why do we need a new building? Nothing happens in there as it is,” a younger man asked.

“There’s no point building it, to not do anything,” he suggested, alluding to the absence of doctors in the existing facility.

Comments from the crowd followed asking for script days with locums to reduce the workload on doctors, for information about the proposed new facility and for greater transparency from YDHS administration.

At the end of the meeting, YDHS board chairman Frankie McLennan rose from the audience and thanked the crowd, saying the board looked forward to positive help from CHRISY and the community.

Ms Hatton undertook to call a follow-up meeting to provide answers to the night’s questions in a month, and encouraged all present to look for the group’s Facebook page for updates.