NO CUTS: Maclean community revolts at hospital meeting
Director of Clinical Operations for Northern NSW Local Health District Lynne Weir rose from her seat and looked out towards the audience that had gathered at Maclean Services Club.
"I think I've said it ten or 15 times, there will be no cuts to Maclean District Hospital."
The room scowled in discontent.
At an information forum organised by the health district to explain changes to operations at Maclean District Hospital and to "counter misinformation in the community", person after person spoke out, letting the officials know they wouldn't tolerate a reduction in care at the hospital.
The plan is to move the 14-bed acute section on level 2 downstairs into a combined subacute, acute 33-bed ward on level 1, with the vacant upstairs to be used as surge beds.
"The staff don't want these changes, the community don't want these changes, why don't you take this on board?" a crowd member asked.
Each person to speak addressed varying issues, from staffing mix under the new arrangement to the contentious issue of how the proposed "surge" status of level 2 of the hospital would be decided.
Executive officer for the hospital Dan Madden explained that the decisions would be made, as they were currently, by managers, with extra staff called from casual pools, or through negotiation with staff.
The largest roar from the crowd came after repeated questioning from Patrick Morgan, who stated he was looking to become part of the community.
Not satisfied with the first response to his question, he pushed back, asking what the actual dollar figure would be saved by the new plan.
"You wouldn't be going to this trouble if there wasn't a pot of money at the end that you were hoping to achieve," he said. "How much are the opinions of this room worth?"
"It's about $150,000," Ms Weir said.
"Is that all?" came the reply chorused through the room.
The health officials said they would take on board feedback from the room, and said that had included their meetings with union officials and staff at the hospital.
This included investigating the reopening of a decommissioned bathroom on level one, after concerns were raised over the wait for facilities under the current arrangements.
Former director of nursing at Maclean Hospital, Anne Farrell, questioned the arrangement of new beds within room one, the former childrens ward now being used as a storage room, and whether the four new beds allocated there would be safe.
Mr Madden said they had heard concerns from nurses about the safety of placing four beds in the room, and the plan could be reconfigured to three beds.
"So now we've only got 32 beds!" came the instant response from the floor.
Despite the barrage of often hostile statements and questions coming at them, the message from the health officials was the same. There was no plan to cut services, or close a ward at the Maclean hospital.
Responding to a question from The Daily Examiner, Ms Weir faced the crowd and guaranteed that the level of care under the new plan would be exactly the same or better than under the current system.
Still they didn't buy it. Ms Weir said she didn't know why the crowd was in disbelief of the message they were being given.
The message from the crowd was crystal clear. They were there to fight for the status quo of the service.