OHS inspection forces Gulgong Hospital closure

GWAHS closes dilapidated Gulgong Hospital due to serious OHS risks  and opens acute services clinic.

A number of OHS problems at Gulgong Hospital led to it being closed last month. These included a poor duress alarm system, security breaches, and asbestos issues.

But a determined campaign by the local rural community, including NSWNA members at the hospital, resulted in the area health service agreeing to open an acute services centre that would allow the nursing staff to keep their jobs.

Members had been complaining to the OHS department for some time about safety and security problems at the 101-year-old hospital but to no avail. Despite some patching up measures, no money had been spent on capital works for up to 50 years.

‘Members have to work in a safe environment so we have been lobbying the Federal Government and the Health Minister Nicola Roxon to provide Commonwealth funding for a new multipurpose centre to be built on the Gulgong site,’ said NSWNA Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda.

NSWNA Delegate at the Gulgong Branch Rebecca Nairne, EEN, said many of the 17 nurses had worked at the hospital for more than 20 years and had pleaded with the Greater Western Area Health Service (GWAHS) to make some improvements to ensure the safety of staff.

‘We all knew the state of the building was quite bad. We’d been asking OHS to get things done for ages but nothing ever got done. We needed new duress alarms and to change the windows from glass to plexiglass, which is shatter-proof,’ said Rebecca.

‘There were issues with our morgue, too. We used to have to walk up to the morgue, which was about 400m up the back of the hospital but you had to go over a footpath, then over a road and it was all gravel and dirty, and getting the trolley in was a bit of an issue. You’d go to OHS but nothing would get done.’

Working in isolation was another problem for staff. ‘We have a limited number of staff, like any small hospital – usually two in the mornings, afternoons and evenings – but you could be in ED and the other person in the ward with a patient and you wouldn’t be able to hear them if they were in trouble or vice versa,’ said Rebecca.

At the request of members, the NSWNA called in WorkCover inspectors, who visited the hospital in March where they found multiple violations of OHS requirements that put staff at risk.

GWAHS was ordered to carry out a series of improvements, including new duress alarms, replacing all windows with shatter-proof glass, installing security mesh screens, making doors lockable and alarmed and reconfiguring hospital rooms for security reasons.

But GWAHS decided the costs involved in implementing these measures were not practical and closed the hospital on 29 August.

Staff – many of whom have had their babies and seen family members die at the hospital – were devastated at the loss to the community, and worried about their jobs.

GWAHS initially planned to only run a HealthOne clinic offering primary and community services, leaving the majority of staff with the only option of working at Mudgee Hospital. Although Mudgee is only 23km away from Gulgong, there is no public transport between the two and a taxi costs $70 one way.

However, a community rally, the creation of a Save Gulgong Hospital Facebook page and discussions between GWAHS and the NSWNA resulted in the area health service agreeing to offer acute services at the HealthOne centre.

‘We now have 12 hours Monday to Friday of acute emergency services and eight hours on Saturdays and Sundays. This is a huge win. It means most of the staff have been accommodated and the community can be treated locally. It was a big improvement to go from nothing to getting the acute services,’ said Rebecca. ‘And we’ve been told if the multipurpose centre gets up and running we will all have first choice for jobs.’