THE fate of a small town's maternal and child health service hangs on the results of an upcoming Bendigo council vote.
Elmore's child and maternal health services were not reinstated in person after the COVID-19 pandemic, sparking backlash from residents who petitioned to have fortnightly nurse visits return.
Bendigo councillors will vote on council's response to the petition at a Monday meeting, with staff pushing for Elmore to remain without nurse visits.
Staff recommended councillors vote the city "continue to offer face-to-face consultation for Elmore families", but do so at other maternal and child health consultation sites around Bendigo.
Speaking separately, staff emphasised the city offered home visits to mothers who were unable to travel.
Elmore's second closest maternal and child health centre is at Huntly, a near 30 minute drive away.
The Bendigo Advertiser revealed in March that maternal child health services had also been withdrawn from Marong, another growing suburb on the city's fringes.
In March, the city said maternal and child health services were not being withdrawn from Elmore, but clients would be offered a home visiting service, or access to Huntly or Epsom clinics.
Elmore's GP clinic practice manager Kathy Tuohey began a petition to re-instate the nurse services when she realised they had not resumed after the COVID-19 crisis eased.
Ms Tuohey said early intervention was vital for children and parents.
Her petition gained 379 signatures.
Tabled in Monday's council agenda, the city's report into the petition said it undertook a comprehensive review of Greater Bendigo maternal child health services in 2018.
It said one recommendation was to transition from small standalone sites to co-located hubs as opportunities arose.
The report said the general halt to face-to-face services in 2020 was an opportunity to implement review recommendations.
It referenced feelings of isolation among nurses working solo in smaller centres.
It also said Elmore's current birth rate did not support deploying a maternal child health nurse from another centre where birth rates were higher.
But, Ms Tuohey said Elmore was a growing area, with new houses, new families and new mothers. She said the nurse visits serviced not only the town itself, but surrounding hamlets such as Goornong, Toolleen and Colbinabbin.
Ms Tuohey said more and more services were being taken away from rural communities, despite them paying the same rates.
"Every baby's important. I can't see just because you've chosen to live somewhere more rural that you're an exception," she said.
"We didn't have a service every day, we had a service twice a month. We're not asking more than that."
City of Greater Bendigo community wellbeing manager Caroline Grylls said it was important to note maternal child health services had been changed, rather than withdrawn, from Elmore.
Ms Grylls said council could offer home visits to Elmore clients who could not travel to other centres.
She said the number of families with young children in Elmore made it difficult for the city to fund having two nurses on-site regularly.
The Elmore region has averaged 10 new births a year over the past 6 years.
Ms Grylls said the city had been working to improve maternal and child health services throughout Greater Bendigo over recent years. She said this provided a better experience for clients and improved the health and safety of nurses.
Ms Grylls said changes allowed the city to establish sites with improved facilities and more nurses present.
She said they had also allowed the city to provide services from multi-nurse centres five days a week, rather than a few days per month.
Whipstick Ward councillor Dave Fagg said he was still considering what his vote would be on the issue, but wanted to see a creative way of providing equitable services to rural towns.
Cr Fagg said any change to the service model of child and maternal health care needed to be very carefully considered and communicated, as it was a much-loved community service.
He said the timing of the decision not to resume face-to-face services at Elmore was unfortunate, coming while some COVID-19 restrictions were in place.
Other Whipstick ward councillors Andrea Metcalf and Julie Sloan declined to comment ahead of Monday's debate.
Cr Metcalf told the Advertiser in March that the City of Greater Bendigo needed to have a conversation about what distance it was reasonable to expect rural residents to travel to access services.
She said the issue of service was broader than maternal and child health nurse visits alone.
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