Calls to open vacant hospital

Eildon MP Cindy McLeish inside the unused Warburton Private Hospital.

By Romy Stephens

Eildon MP Cindy McLeish and Yarra Ranges Councillor Jim Child are among those who have called upon the State Government to reopen the unused Warburton Private Hospital.

The call comes as pressure continues to mount on health services amid the Covid-19 crisis.

On 3 April, Victoria had 1,085 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with 18 of those in the Yarra Ranges.

Ms McLeish said she proposed the option to the Minister for Health after being contacted by many locals who supported the idea.

“I have been contacted by many people, more so recently, wanting to see the hospital reopen, particularly because the nearest hospital services are 50kms away,” she said.

“Locals would love to see the hospital repurposed and again offer health services to residents as part of the state’s public health system and to support the local community.”

The hospital has sat idle for over a decade but remains well maintained and was recently upgraded.

It had previously been used as a wellness centre, rehabilitation clinic and obstetrics service.

“The hospital would be ideal for aged care or rehabilitation services for vulnerable patients or distance them from Covid-19,” Ms McLeish said.

“We need to make use of the resources around us. This hospital could greatly benefit the community and help ease current hospital demand.”

Meanwhile, O’Shannassy Ward Councillor Jim Child agreed that it was an ideal time to reopen the facility.

“As the Covid-19 situation worsens, there is a possibility of a shortage of facilities to house those recovering from the virus, so reopening the Warburton Private Hospital would provide an extra resource to help ease the strain on resources elsewhere,” he said.

“We’ve already seen an example of what’s possible with the reopening of the Geelong Private Hospital in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“This facility has just gone through $250,000 worth of improvements before going to market via the expression of interest process, so it’s better equipped than ever.”

Daz Nankivell has been leading a campaign to re-open the Warburton Private Hospital, with his petition receiving over 2200 signatures.

He said if the hospital was reopened it would help meet the needs of the surrounding growing population and save local residents about an hour travelling along the narrow Warburton Highway to get to Maroondah Hospital.

He also said it was an ideal time considering the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s a great resource in the community sitting there idling,” Mr Nankivell said.

“How can you say as a health organisation that you’re doing everything you can to flatten the curve when you’ve got hospitals sitting there idling?,” he said.

The State Government recently announced it would inject $1.3 billion into the health system to quickly establish an extra 4,000 ICU beds in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

A spokesperson said the government is “preparing for all contingencies.”

“We know that once Victoria hits its peak of the coronavirus pandemic, we will need more staff and beds than ever before to manage the significant increase in patients,” the government spokesperson said.

“The Department of Health and Human Services is commissioning new and old buildings, as well as looking at a range of settings that could be used to create extra capacity if it’s needed.

“If Victorians stay at home and protect the health system, we hopefully won’t need all this extra capacity and we’ll save lives.”

Retired healthcare specialists have been called upon to return to work while the State Government is continuing to talk to smaller private hospitals and day procedure centres about extra capacity they can provide during the peak of the pandemic.