RESIDENTS of the Stawell region are invited to actively engage in the future planning of Stawell Regional Health and the services provided.
A conversation has begun in the region, between Wimmera Health Care Group and Ballarat Health Service that may involve either stronger partnerships or a possible voluntary amalgamation between the two services.
Stawell Regional Health has chosen to actively participate in this conversation, to gain a solid understanding of what is happening in the region - and what opportunities or impacts there may be for the Stawell Regional Health and our community.
Have something to say on this topic? Get in touch - firstname.lastname@example.org
Stawell Regional Health is inviting the community to participate in future planning for health services through a range of consultation activities from 1 March to 21 May 2021.
Board Chair Rhian Jones said the health service wants to plan for the future, find new ways to address challenges, provide more services, to ensure Stawell Regional Health is a service that cares for the community well into the future and confirmed the need for a long-term plan for the next 10-20 years.
"We want to ensure people get the right care, at the right time, in the right place - and to deliver care close to home where possible, through the health service," she said.
"The healthcare environment is changing at an unprecedented rate.
"The Board wants to ensure that Stawell continues to have a health service that is viable well into the future, provides the services the community needs and has an active role in the region's service delivery model for the benefit of our entire region.
"During the past 12 months we learnt how well the Grampians Region works together, and by doing so, we can support a much stronger approach to health care for everyone."
Ms Jones said residents would have an opportunity to participate in Stawell Regional Health's biggest consultation process ever held.
Biggest consultation process
"We are wanting to hear your views on health service priorities and opportunities from 1 st March, continuing for a 12-week consultation period and closing on 21 May 2021," she said.
"We will provide a range of ways for the community to provide feedback and your thoughts on what you love about Stawell Regional Health, what you think we could do better, what you want the future to look like, what's important to you in terms of local healthcare delivery now and over the next 10-20 years, and any questions and ideas you have."
Stawell Regional Health chief executive Kate Pryde said it was an exciting time for the health service to plan.
"It's about the long-term future," she said.
"Not just planning year by year or three to five-year blocks.
"To have a thriving health service you have to lobby, you have to build.
"When the government releases funds for capital projects you have to be clear on what you want to build.
"A CEO couldn't ask for more - an opportunity to ask the community what they want and to sit down and plan for a future that fits with the needs to the community."
Ms Pryde said she understood there would be residents of Stawell who would have very strong opinions.
"I think when you are in a position such as the one I am in, you have to look at all angles of everything which is exactly what we are doing," she said.
"It wouldn't be ok to just take my opinion on this. It is about getting everyone's opinion on this and looking at it from every angle. We need to get all the information we can and collate it so we can make the right decision.
"Yes, I would love to hear from those who are very vocal but it's also the ones who don't often speak out that I would like to hear from.
"Some residents might have the sense that they are just one person. We are a community of many 'one' people."
Meeting community needs
Ms Pryde said small rural hospitals were limited in what they can deliver and the community engagement process was a way to ensure what Stawell Regional Health provided into the future met the needs to the community.
"We can't deliver complex surgery because there isn't the medical support team here to do that," she said.
"We don't have the high dependency units - we aren't going to get them.
"But could we look into a more streamlined or partnership where we can bring low-risk patients back to Stawell to recover?
"There is so much research out there that people get better when they are closer to home.
"If that is something the community would want then it's certainly something we can take to the table."
Ms Pryde said one of her visions would be for elderly patients who were required to have complex surgery outside of the region could come back to Stawell Regional Health and recover while getting ready to go home.
"They would be surrounded by family and friends and the transition back to home would be smoother," she said.
"Something like this doesn't have to come from an amalgamation. I have done a number of partnerships in the past where larger hospitals have fed smaller regional hospitals overflow so the health system is ensuring that all beds were being utilised."
Playing a vital role
As Stawell's population continues to grow with a number of infrastructure projects across the region growing, Ms Pryde said the health service plays a key role in attracting and retaining people who want to live in the region.
"This is why I keep saying we can't just keep surviving year after year," she said.
"We need a plan and need to grow into a plan. We need a commitment from the government around how we are going to grow into that plan.
"It's exactly why we're going into future planning. Now is the time. There are all sorts of things happening in Victorian health care where clusters are being formed.
"This is driving better partnerships regardless of what we are doing."
Ms Pryde said she didn't want to community to feel just because conversations were happening that any deal was already done.
"If we don't have a plan - we're vulnerable," she said.
"If we don't have a plan that is meeting our community needs and we can stand there and say 'we are relevant for our community and in the region' we're vulnerable.
"You see rural health services go down that track all the time. Their relevance drops off and it's a downward spiral.
"That's what I want to plan against.
"I think the future of health care has been impacted by COVID-19. Getting that care close to home has a huge part to play.
"We just need to learn what role our community needs us to play in that."
Concerns within the community
Ms Pryde said she had heard a number of concerns within the community already about what the future would look like.
"This is where the community has to place some trust with us that those concerns are going to go to the table and we are going to ask things such as 'how would funding be managed?'," she said.
"I understand people are worried about the autonomy of the health service.
"That's ok - if that's a concern that's what we take to the table. These are all the things we will be talking about during the community consultation period."
Ms Pryde said there was an analogy that came to mind when looking at the situation.
"It's like Ballarat Health Service is building a new house and has said to the health services around them 'who wants to come live in our house?'," she said.
"They can modify their plans in the build phase now - which is kind of what our opportunity is.
"We're getting an opportunity to say we might need four bedrooms and so many bathrooms - what does your house look like now and do we want to be part of it.
"The further they get down the path the more they construct a house for them and any other health service that wants or needs to join into the future might get a bolt-on or have the shed out the back.
"We can at any point in time say this isn't a house where we would like to live - and that's ok."
A seat at the table
Ms Pryde said by having conversations there was no commitment - only a commitment of having a discussion.
"This future planning is not about an amalgamation," she said.
"We are not excluding any other partnership options or opportunities
"In my mind, there are three alternatives the health service could go down.
"Stay independent - where we will be facing significant challenges in terms of frameworks and funding.
"Partnership - there is no doubt about it. But there is a process. Who do we need to be and how would we achieve this.
"The board has taken this as its a civic duty to look at the best options for us as a whole community.
"How can we say no to finding out more about what's going on and what that could mean for the residents of Stawell.
"I believe it's better to be sitting at the table and finding out what's going on than not at the table and uneducated."
If you can see this message, you are a loyal digital subscriber to The Stawell Times-News, as we made this story available only to subscribers. Thank you very much for your support and for allowing us to continue telling Stawell's story. We appreciate your support of journalism in our great town.