WIMMERA health leaders say more funding is needed to provide holistic care for the region’s residents.
It comes after a number of health groups released their annual reports for the 2017-18 financial year.
These organisations comprised of West Wimmera Health Service, Wimmera Health Care Group and Edenhope and District Memorial Hospital.
Safety a priority over financial position
Wimmera Health Care Group recorded a deficit of $2.3 million, which was an $1.2-million increase from the previous financial year.
Chief executive Catherine Morley said the organisation will not compromise on its services despite recording a deficit for two consecutive years.
Ms Morley said rural health organisations experienced financial strain because of their location and size.
She said a deficit was recorded because the organisation offered many services that were not “appropriately funded”.
See pages 21 to 23 for financial overview:
Despite this, the hospital would not compromise the safety of its services.
“From our organisation’s perspective, we know the cost of providing a service safely and we are not prepared to compromise,” she said.
“We believe there is a rural factor and it is difficult to manage (services) when not appropriately funded.”
Ms Morley said the hospital delivered about 350 babies each year, but the cost of the service was $8000 more than the funding received.
“I think it’s the size of our organisation that causes an impact, but just because we don’t deliver the same amount (compared to metropolitan hospitals), doesn’t mean we should compromise for our community,” she said.
Ms Morley said the region needed a lot more resources and support to improve the overall health of its people. She said the region had the worst statistics in the state for chronic disease, obesity, smoking, alcohol use and cancer.
Ms Morley said the group had been forced to expand services to address gaps.
“We have gone into the primary care space because of the lack of general practitioners. That is a casual locum pool arrangement, which is expensive, but we believe our community deserves primary care,” she said.
Ms Morley said the organisation wanted more funding to support preventive services and mental health services, and also hoped to expand the Hospital in the Home program.
Isolated services strained in rural towns
Outside of the region’s major centres, access to health services is even more limited.
West Wimmera Health Service recorded a surplus of $128,000, an increase from the previous financial year’s surplus of $4000.
Chief executive Ritchie Dodds said the service hoped to improve its financial position.
“We’re reasonably dependent on residential aged care funding, which can change significantly based on bed occupancy rates,” he said. “We’re not unhappy with our current financial position, but things can change fairly quickly in health.
Financial results from page 19:
“We also have several relatively large capital projects underway, which we’ll need to continue to manage closely to ensure we don’t suffer any serious cost over-runs.”
Mr Dodds said the service was not seeking any specific funding, however had recently received a $1.2-million upgrade to its Nhill operating theatre.
“Everyone will be relieved when it opens again, which is scheduled to occur in the first half of next year,” he said.
The service has a significant amount of visiting specialists, but Mr Dodds said there was a need for more.
“Psychologists and mental health experts would also be welcome to provide a greater range of mental health care closer to home,” he said.
“Dermatologists, urologists and oncologists would all be welcome, however the reality is that with our relatively small population it’s not economically viable for them to visit.
“We will though continue to utilise telehealth to increase access to these specialists.”
Mr Dodds said rural and metropolitan funding differences were not always clear-cut.
“It can differ significantly to what we are able to provide and the populations they serve tend to be younger, and, of course, much bigger than here,” he said.
“Alfred Health has an annual budget of around $1 billion compared with ours of $45 million, so they spend nearly as much in two weeks as we do in a year.”
Mr Dodds said population health was a focus for the service.
“The health outcomes for our communities are significantly worse than in the city on a range of indicators, so we have a lot of work to do in that regard,” he said.
“We can’t fix it overnight but, by working with the community, we hope to make a meaningful and sustainable improvement in coming years.”
Edenhope and District Memorial Hospital reported an operating surplus of $90,000 in the 2017-18 financial year.
Acting chief executive Andrew Saunders said telehealth services through its clinic enabled greater access to specialists.
“Our patients now don’t need to travel long distances to see specialists. We are now able to hold specialist consults in our medical clinic with the assistance of our practise nurses and doctors,” he said.
See page 6 for financial performance:
Mr Saunders said the service needed more access to mental health and child care services.
“We are in the process of employing a physiotherapist and we have a dental specialist visit once a week, but there is demand for more,” he said.
The service was recently successful in receiving government funding for a Rural Outreach Worker, along with $6.3 million for stage one of its aged care redevelopment. It also acquired an ultrasound machine with donation funding.
It was unsuccessful with a $10-million application for stage two of its master plan.
The Wimmera Mail-Times contacted Rural Northwest Health for comment, but did not receive a response before deadline.
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