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    Horsham Rural City Council councillors from left, David Bowe, Ian Ross, Les Power, Robyn Gulline, Claudia Haenel, Di Bell and Penny Flynn.

Horsham councillors ‘dead-set’ against hospital merger


Horsham mayor Robyn Gulline has strongly backed her council’s stance to oppose any merger between Wimmera and Ballarat health services. 

She and her fellow councillors, who at a meeting on Monday night voted unanimously against supporting the merger proposal, are instead urging Wimmera Health Care Group to seek other partnership options to improve regional health care.

The health-care group has been exploring ways to enhance a partnership with Ballarat Health Services, including a merger, in response to staff-
recruiting issues and the number of Wimmera people travelling to Ballarat for public health services.

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Cr Gulline said she had major concerns the Wimmera would lose ‘local’ management and oversight of its primary health-care group if it chose voluntary amalgamation with Ballarat. 

“All seven councillors voted against the merger – we are dead-set against this,” she said. 

“We do not believe it is in the best interest of our region and our community.” 

Cr Gulline said the council would explore other options to help the Wimmera hospital and services attract greater attention and funding from state and federal governments.  

“The hospital’s funding model is broken – we at the council are more than happy to campaign and make representations on behalf of the hospital to increase funding to help meet the needs of the community,” she said. 

“The hospital hasn’t been talking to the council and asking us to help them in their challenges, which we’re quite disappointed about.”

Cr Gulline said she would meet State Health Minister Martin Foley in March to discuss what other options existed to help improve healthcare provision in the Wimmera. 

“We need to go and speak to the minister and promote that this is a regional hospital, it’s not just providing a service to the Horsham municipality,” she said.

“We also have six other health services across our region, so surely a stronger alliance could be formed and therefore increase their bargaining power. 

“In the Wimmera and southern Mallee, we have traditionally been very good at finding hybrid solutions that are place-based and can suit our specific needs.” 

The health-care group board has extended a community consultation period regarding the proposal to March 15. It ran consultation sessions earlier this year and has called for public submissions on the proposal since November last year. More than 1000 people have provided feedback. 

Rural services

Meanwhile, leaders at Edenhope and District Memorial Hospital are also exploring partnership options including voluntary amalgamation with both Wimmera and Ballarat services. 

West Wimmera Shire Council mayor Bruce Meyer has backed the Edenhope hospital’s investigation, saying any options that could improve services would be critical for the community. 

“You just can’t run a hospital of that size and nature and make ends meet forever – they’ve got to make some change,” he said. “Edenhope is a town of about 750 people and they’re trying to maintain quite a large hospital – it’s becoming more and more difficult for them. 

“Costs in general keep rising all the time and the incoming funding in rural areas doesn’t keep pace with the current expenditure – that’s pretty common across the board, including in council.” 

However, Cr Meyer said he would be sceptical about the idea of any Wimmera health services merging with Ballarat. 

“I’d be nervous about too much of a move towards Ballarat because we need strong medical services across the Wimmera,” he said. 

“They’ve got to lay all the options on the table and figure out what is best for them and for the community first and foremost.” 

Hospital chief executive Andrew Saunders said strengthening partnerships could take on the form of shared service agreements or voluntary amalgamation. 

He reassured the Edenhope district community any decisions about the future of the health service would involve ‘extensive’ consultation. 

“If you do nothing, nothing will change. At the end of the day if there is no benefit, at least we can say we explored the idea,” Mr Saunders said. 

“Everything’s on the table at the moment to ultimately find a way to improve our health services.

“We’re still in that initial discovery phase and we need to make sure we do all of our homework so the board can make an informed decision about what is the best way forward.” 

Mr Saunders said the hospital was facing a gradual reduction in demand for services, declining by 75 percent in 15 years.  

He said partnering with other health services would create new opportunities for hospital staff and allow the health service to continue providing ‘outstanding’ care.

Hospital leaders will seek feedback about the partnership proposal from March 1 to May 21. 

People seeking more information can visit website

• Wimmera Health Care Group board chair Marie Aitken’s letter.

The entire February 24, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

The entire February 24, 2021 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!