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21 July 2021
The entire July 21, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!
By DEAN LAWSON
Member for Lowan Emma Kealy has refused to accept ‘commercial in-confidence’ in any reasoning for non-disclosure of key information in a western Victorian health-group merger business case.
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Ms Kealy said community clarity about where a new health group created from three Wimmera and one Ballarat health services would access and provide goods and services was fundamental in debate about the proposal.
She was quick to respond to questions about whether there were in-confidence barriers – declaring she would request details through a Freedom of Information process.
“It is critically important that key aspects of this type of information are as transparent and readily available to communities as possible,” she said.
“We’re talking about taxpayer dollars providing public health services, which means communities have a right to know how these dollars are being spent.
“The commercial supply of services – food such as fruit, vegetables, bread and meat, trade services such as plumbing and electricity as well as internal services and where and how this impacts locally are all part of the big-picture debate.”
Wimmera Southern Mallee Regional Partnership chairman David Jochinke, responding last week to a collective-board decision to merge the health groups, called for a public release of a business case and implementation strategy.
He said the partnership’s role in providing the State Government with regional-priority advice relied heavily on broad community understanding of relevant issues. He said it was difficult for the partnership to form an educated position on the merger based on a lack of detailed information.
He said at the time: “Trust is also a big issue here and that involves ensuring a high degree of transparency for the community to believe amalgamation is the best way forward for our region.”
The voluntary merger involves Wimmera Health Care Group, Ballarat Health Services, Stawell Regional Health and Edenhope and District Memorial Hospital.
West Wimmera Health Service, which administers services in the Wimmera’s north-west and parts of east Wimmera and Rural Northwest Health, northern Wimmera and southern Mallee, are not part of the merger.
A service-sharing Regional Southern Mallee Health Alliance, formed in 2010 and involving the four Wimmera-Mallee health groups but not Ballarat already exists.
Group boards involved in the merger have dismissed creation of a standalone Wimmera-Mallee organisation based on the level of service-delivery expectations surrounding the move.
Ms Kealy, meanwhile, remains adamant that Wimmera people had made it overwhelmingly clear they were against a ‘mega’ merger involving Ballarat services.
She implored Health Minister Martin Foley to ‘listen to the community’ and not sign off on the proposal.
“Such a merger will have disastrous consequences for our community,” she said.
“It is difficult to understand why amalgamation is pitched as the only solution to improving health services, because it simply is not.”
Mr Jochinke said a snap community online ‘temperature-check’ survey organised by the regional partnership and Wimmera Development Association had so far revealed varying levels of understanding about the merger.
He said of 163 completed surveys on Friday there was ‘a spread of understanding and comfort levels that were hard to interpret’.
“There does, however, seem to be a thirst for people to have a greater understanding,” he said.
“This isn’t about us kicking anyone about the park or persecuting anyone – it’s just about gaining a greater understanding.”
Mr Foley stated in a letter dated May 21 that any voluntary merger of health services would attract government support ‘only where extensive community consultation and due diligence has occurred and there is clear community benefit and backing’.