Castlemaine health service considers options for new hospital, aged care accommodation.

CASTLEMAINE Health is inviting the community to help shape its future, as it aspires to become more accessible, modern and sustainable. 

Board chair Carolyn Wallace said keeping the existing facilities and ageing infrastructure in safe working condition would cost at least $36 million over the next 15 years.

“What we’d be doing is using public money to prop up an inefficient and out-of-date building configuration,” she said. 

The health service is consequently contemplating the construction of a new hospital and aged care accommodation. 

A health service planning group has suggested three options: to redevelop the existing hospital site; to use the Cornish Street site and the old hospital site at Halford Street, or to secure a new site.

Each of the options has its benefits and its challenges.

While the new site would be the most cost-effective option, potential difficulties include finding a large enough site that is central to the community. 

Using both the old and the existing hospital sites would enable construction to be timed so that services can be delivered normally.

But the old hospital site is in a residential zone, creating potential planning issues. 

The existing hospital site is familiar to the community, and work could start earlier than the other options. 

However, it has the smallest proposed residential aged care accommodation of the three, catering for 60 people instead of the 160 offered by the other two plans. 

The population of the Mount Alexander Shire is expected to grow by 25 per cent by 2031, from an estimated 18,497 people in 2016.

The number of residents aged 65 years and over is expected to grow by 76 per cent by 2026.

At the time of the last Census, in 2011, there were more residents aged 55 – 59 than any other age group. 

Almost 490 residents were over the age of 85. 

Castlemaine Health has stressed the importance of the community’s involvement in the project, and called for ideas for how to better provide services to meet the needs of the shire’s residents. 

Though it has put three options forward for consideration, the health service is inviting other alternatives. 

It is also keen to learn more about the services the community would like delivered.

Suggestions include inpatient palliative care, dental and oral health, community mental health and chemotherapy.

Existing services include residential aged care; inpatient services, including 24-hour urgent care, surgical treatment and obstetrics; outpatient services, including dietetics; and outreach services, such as district nursing.

Castlemaine has been home to a health service for more than 160 years. Pictured are a nurse's uniform and a commemoration of the building's former name.

Castlemaine has been home to a health service for more than 160 years. Pictured are a nurse's uniform and a commemoration of the building's former name.

Service says it’s time for a shift

CASTLEMAINE Health is proud of its service and the regard the community has for it, board chair Carolyn Wallace said.

“But it’s getting harder and harder to deliver modern healthcare within the limitations of the existing buildings,” she said. 

She said the buildings, while historically significant, presented a range of problems.

“They are old and increasingly need major maintenance,” Ms Wallace said. 

“The slope and layout make access and movement between buildings difficult for patients, visitors and staff. 

“It costs a lot of money to keep the buildings at a bare minimum standard of safety and comfort.”

Capital costs aren’t built into the hospital funding model, Ms Wallace said. 

“The funding model is all around operations,” she said.

Whether a health service is operating in a new hospital or from heritage buildings, if they treat the same number of patients and provide the same services, they will receive an identical sum of funding. 

The main entrance of Castlemaine Health. Having been officially opened on May 30, 2014, it is one of the newest parts of the hospital.

The main entrance of Castlemaine Health. Having been officially opened on May 30, 2014, it is one of the newest parts of the hospital.

On either side of Castlemaine, health services have received new facilities. 

In January, Bendigo Health celebrated the opening of its $630 million new hospital project’s first stage.

The state government last week announced almost $10 million in funding for Cobaw Community Health Services, to build a Healthy Community Access Hub in Kyneton.

“We have the opportunity to develop a modern health service for our community and we want to get it right,” Ms Wallace said.

She called on community members to help Castlemaine Health build a strong, evidence-based case for new facilities. 

“Whenever a community is able to demonstrate need and benefit and strong support, generally the funding follows,” she said.

The Mount Alexander Shire Council has thrown its support behind Castlemaine Health’s service redesign consultation process.

Mayor Sharon Telford said the organisation had a special place in the community.

“It is a major contributor to the health of our residents and a major employer in the shire,” she said. 

“It is important that we support it to develop and grow in pace with community needs.”

The hilly terrain at the Castlemaine Health has been identified as one of the site's challenges. Slopes had little impact on the satisfaction of hospital stay patients, which was 100 per cent in 2016.

The hilly terrain at the Castlemaine Health has been identified as one of the site's challenges. Slopes had little impact on the satisfaction of hospital stay patients, which was 100 per cent in 2016.

Community’s care under consideration

CASTLEMAINE Health has launched a three-month community consultation campaign as it seeks to improve the shape and location of its services. 

Community round-tables have been scheduled for Chewton, Elphinstone, Guildford, Harcourt, Castlemaine, Maldon, Malmsbury, Campbell's Creek, Newstead and Taradale from April 20 – July 5.

Feedback can also be provided via a survey, which is available to complete online or in print, or by dropping a comment on an interactive map.

The map, community round-table dates and survey are posted on the Engage Victoria website: https://engage.vic.gov.au/castlemaine-health 

Submissions will be used to compile a report to the state government, which will recommend options for Castlemaine Health’s future development. 

The public consultation phase closes on July 13, with the results to be published on September 1 and reported to government that month.