Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Save Keith Hospital

Residents from Keith, Moonta and Ardrossan (South Australia) gathered at the steps of Parliament House in Adelaide today to protest some pretty drastic funding cuts to their community hospitals. I am not familiar with the other towns, but let me tell you a little about Keith.

I understand that this post may go into the “Too long – did not read” basket, but please dig it out again when you have time. It’s important.

Keith is based on the corner of the Riddoch and Dukes Highways in the state’s South East, and has a population of approximately 1,000 people. Between them, the Dukes and Riddoch highways account for 46% of fatal car accidents in South Australia, and Keith receives many patients from car accidents on these highways. The local hospital covers a region of 10,000 square kilometres and is the furthest that the rescue helicopter can travel into the South East without refuelling, making it strategically an excellent place to maintain a hospital.

Keith & District Hospital Inc. is classified as “Private”, however in reality it is a community hospital, and runs as a not-for-profit organisation. At a town meeting last week, where the attendance was greater than the town’s official population, local residents spoke of the hospital’s origins. The hospital itself was built by local residents, by hand, on a block of land donated by a local landowner. The community saved up enough money for Keith’s first ambulance vehicle using donations and fundraising. Even now the community works hard to keep the hospital operating – locals willingly donate money, time and labour whenever it is required.

But the “Honourable” Mr John Hill, state Minister for Health, has decided to cut state funding from $615,000 to a mere $300,000 per year. One of his reasons is that Keith Hospital receives the equivalent of three public beds’ funding, whereas only one public bed is usually occupied. This is mainly because the residents of Keith and district have had the foresight to take out private health insurance - the private bed occupancy in Keith is around 80%, compared with the state’s ambitious of target of 16% (and its current occupancy of 11%).

Did you know that the state health budget is equivalent to approximately $2,000 for every man, woman and child? How much to you think they spend in Keith - $500? $1,000? $3,000? No, it’s $85. Eighty-five dollars per person. Not exactly extravagant spending.

The reality is, Keith Hospital will be forced to close due to these funding cuts. And without a hospital, the area will lose GP services, it will lose ambulance services, aged care residents will be forced to move to the next town or further, and the town will die. Local residents cannot be assured of timely medical attention in the event of emergencies – and neither can travellers on two of the state’s most dangerous highways.

The Keith district is based on good, productive country and is occupied by good, hardworking people who value the town, community and their hospital. Mr Hill doggedly insists that he will cut the funding despite the community’s protests. We can only hope that he changes his mind, as he is literally risking lives with this decision.

Above: today's protest at Parliament House, Adelaide.
Below: Keith Institute full to capacity during the town meeting. All seats were full well before the meeting began, and people stood in hallways and in outdoor areas during the two-hour meeting.

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