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Business leader: Let’s think big in the Wimmera

The managing director of one of Horsham’s largest private employers believes Wimmera medical-service providers should be exploring regional growth with neighbouring health groups instead of Ballarat.

Tim Hopper of CHS Group said he believed a better alternative to a merger between Wimmera Health Care Group and Ballarat Health Services was to expand what the region offered from within.

He said based on economies of scale, transforming Horsham into a much bigger health hub to meet regional needs represented a much better option than transferring operational autonomy closer to Melbourne.

“We must embrace a sense of not only self-preservation, but also an understanding of the opportunity we have to grow and develop from our own regional base,” he said.

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Mr Hopper has outlined his thoughts in the following letter to The Weekly Advertiser

Health comes first

SIR, –  The health of the people of Horsham district needs to be a priority. I’m not privileged to know the full medical benefits of a merger with Ballarat, but I’ve used services of the Wimmera Base, Ballarat Base and Melbourne hospitals and have confidence in our medical professionals here.

I was born, grew up and have been educated in Horsham. My grandmother was a Wimmera hospital matron and my mother a long-standing maternity nurse.

I write this with caution, determined not to offend anyone in this debate – not Ballarat people or those who have sat on Wimmera or Ballarat hospital boards.

My simple point is that we need to build and redevelop, go big and think of the 30-plus year solution.

Our business employs roughly 150 people and 50 subcontractors, with the majority based in Horsham. 

We were one of the major sub-contractors of the 1990s hospital rebuild and for decades have supplied trade services to the hospital, working closely with its engineering department.

I recall the time my grandfather required dialysis treatment in the later years of his life in Ballarat and the strain of the drive became too much. There was no dialysis equipment at the time in Horsham. This was nearly 25 years ago and there is now a dialysis unit. 

I’ve also had family and staff members use the wonderful services of ‘Peter Mac’ or Ballarat oncology and it is the drive that is the real strain.

We have since had direct access to dialysis and our Wimmera Cancer Centre, providing visiting specialist treatment and care, saving many trips down the Western Highway.

This is the basis of my point – in another 30 years we can add major services on top of the facilities we have today – but do it on our own.

Picture a $50-million grant for a much-needed upgrade for the hospital to make it a powerhouse it deserves to become.

Through a Ballarat merger it is hard to see how money could be appropriately distributed into a Horsham-based health organisation.

We must maintain our independence and consider building a major site. 

Instead of the merger, aim to attract our own government grant.

Economies of scale are powerful if you get them right, and not good if you get them wrong – in this case a merger would be at the detriment of our local economy.

I reference one part of the hospital – the laundry. I can assume a 40-plus person operation.

This service would likely cease in a pure cost saving economic decision, replaced by a couple of truck trips to Ballarat each day.

I’m a realist and understand  funding requirements to make things happen.

There is much we could do. For example, do we consider a multi-storey hospital that has a rooftop helicopter that can fly people in an emergency to Melbourne? 

It would also be closer to Warracknabeal, Hopetoun, Edenhope, Nhill and all other towns not covered by the Warrnambool-based helicopter? Geographically we have the largest footprint in the state.

The cost of a merger would be better spent planning for a major site in Horsham, for the Wimmera and southern Mallee.

I’m also a big believer of developing air traffic or rail upgrades to help us increase, not decrease, our services. Ballarat’s population is booming with overflow of Melbournians – their health system is in need of its own upgrades.

Learning from COVID and the situation we are in today, the less time in Melbourne the better. 

Build a quality hospital and quality health professionals will come.

If we don’t – no matter the picture Ballarat executives paint or success generated from a honeymoon period – we will miss out.

We must be solid in our convictions to have a powerhouse region with many new industries presenting themselves, and we need our own health organisation for this. 

Many local industries are going strongly and we’re on the cusp of significant growth.

We need to flip this health-service conversation 180 degrees and squirt tens-of-millions-of-dollars into a major site, with first-class facilities and first-class doctors welcomed to the region.

T. J. Hopper




RELATED: Webster: What’s the deal on hospital mergers?

RELATED: Surgeon no to hospital merger

EDITORIAL: Hospital merger response momentum grows

LETTER: Stand united

LETTER: Under our control 

LETTER: Loss of autonomy

The entire February 17, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!