Staff angry over St Vincent’s closure

Nurses at St Vincents Hospital, Bathurst, are worried about their future.

Sixty-two nurses will lose their jobs in September when St Vincent’s Hospital in Bathurst closes.

Catholic Healthcare, which owns the private hospital, was forced to announce the closure to the hospital’s 100 staff on 2 March after the media got wind of the news. It plans to redevelop the site and turn it into an aged care facility.

The hospital was initially due to close on 1 June, but several days after the announcement the St Vincent’s Branch of the NSWNA passed a resolution to give Catholic Healthcare a week to reconsider its decision or face a community campaign against the closure.

‘Catholic Healthcare came back to us saying they were in discussions with a group of doctors from Orange who were looking at the possibility of setting up a day surgery in Bathurst and, because of this, Catholic Healthcare said they were prepared to keep the hospital open until 1 September,’ said NSWNA Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda. ‘They want to see what they can negotiate with other key stakeholders in as far as keeping services in the community because they have copped a bit of community backlash.’

The closure of the hospital and its 30 beds is a huge blow to the community who will lose the local services, and to the nurses who will be out of a job.

‘There are no jobs at Bathhurst Base Hospital because of their budget situation,’ said Judith. ‘The most we can do for these nurses who will be out of work is get them on the casual pool at Bathurst Base and Orange Base and we’ve done that. We’ve given their names and what their specialities are.’

The NSWNA is calling on the State Government to release new funding from the Treasury to open the 15 closed beds at Bathurst Base, which will then allow the hospital to employ more staff.

Union Officials have also met with State MP Gerard Martin and a working party comprising key stakeholders has been set up to consider possible options for the community and nurses.

‘We think there needs to be a similar model to Lithgow, which has a community-owned and run private hospital, co-located with their public hospital, and they share the services,’ said Judith Kiejda.

The Association held a rally on 30 March, which was attended by 250 nurses as well as the local community.

Helen Price, an RN who has worked at St Vincent’s for 10 years, said staff are feeling angry and disillusioned about the closure.

‘Our initial reaction was shock – we didn’t see it coming,’ Helen told The Lamp. ‘As a nurse you assume you’ll be able to walk into any job but that’s not the case as there’s very few jobs here, especially for RNs. We don’t know what we are going to do. I’ve got a home loan and three children so I’m really worried. It’s a very stressful time and we are very angry at the way Catholic Healthcare is repaying the amazing loyalty of staff, many of whom have been employed here for more than 20 years.’

Helen said she and other nurses would either have to move out of the Bathurst area completely or travel to Orange for work, which is an hour’s drive each way. ‘We don’t want to have to up sticks and move. Many of us are settled with homes and have children in schools. And if I have to travel to Orange, instead of working a nine-day fortnight I’ll have to work full-time to pay for the fuel.’

The NSWNA will continue to support members at St Vincent’s by exploring every option that becomes available during the working party discussions.