Byron’s brand new Colorbond hospital at Ewingsdale is set to open its doors by mid-next year, albeit without the operating theatre component, which could open by December – or not at all.
An audience of around 150 people last night heard from an all-star cast from the Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSWLHD), NSW Health Infrastructure, builders Brookfield Multiplex and architect Bernard Waller.
Construction of Byron Central Hospital should be complete by next March, allowing the health department a three-month implementation period, according to Stuart Clark from Brookfield Multiplex
The new hospital will comprise 14 emergency beds, 43 overnight inpatient beds, a birthing suite comprising two beds, four chemotherapy chairs and four oral health chairs – plus a new 20-bed subacute mental health facility.
Community health and clinics will also be co-located at the facility.
NNSWLHD chief executive Chris Crawford congratulated Brookfield Multiplex for the speed of the construction, acknowledging that this was in part driven by the company’s experience with (usually much larger scale) hospital building and in part due to the rapidly deteriorating state of Mullumbimby Hospital, which has well and truly passed its use-by date.
What won’t be opening then is the operating theatre component, which is currently out to tender to the private sector, with an outcome not known until later this year. If a successful operator is found, the theatre will open in December 2016.
Jeff Arthur, from Health Infrastructure said that if the two-theatre day-only facility does go ahead, public patients will be treated ‘in exactly the same way as they are currently – they won’t notice any difference.’
Mr Crawford said the new complex will replace both of the shire’s current hospitals plus the Bangalow Community Health Centre. Staff from all three facilities will be progressively moved there and the old centres remediated before final decisions are taken on their futures. The Byron Hospital, at least, will almost certainly be sold.
Approximately 120 staff are expected to be employed at the hospital in three shifts, and, in addition to the local staff looking to transfer, NNSWLHD executive director Bernadette Loughnane said there had been a ‘surprising’ level of interest for transfers from around the state ‘some from disciplines we don’t even have roles for as yet.’
The hospital will be divided into three buildings, each connected by glazed walkways. The patient-accessible areas will all be on one level, with the delivery bay, kitchen and some ancillary services on a second level at the back.
The main wing, containing accident and emergency and the overnight acute medical beds, is closest to Ewingsdale Road and the main car park.
A second building to the north will comprise a café, administration area, community health and oral health, plus a chemotherapy section accessible directly from the rear.
The third building will contain a purpose-built and fully funded subacute mental health facility for patients from around the region requiring two-to-three months’ rehabilitation rather than urgent care.
It will be the first of its kind in regional NSW and Richard Buss, NNSWLHD’s director of mental health and drug and alcohol services, spoke passionately about the need for such a facility.
Much was made of the colour scheme – which architect Bernard Waller said would contain a palate reflecting ‘the beaches of Byron Bay and the mountains of Mullumbimby’ – but virtually nothing about any new equipment, apart from the chemotherapy facility and an MRI machine.
The Colorbond construction came in for some criticism but the audience was assured it would be double-skinned, insulated and double-glazed ‘to ensure an optimal thermal outcome’.
Answering criticisms the building was too close to the road, Mr Waller said the insulation and double-glazing would ensure traffic noise would not be a problem for patients.
Other energy-saving initiatives will include solar hot water (supplemented by gas), energy efficient lighting, variable speed pumps and fans, and so called ‘smart’ air conditioning that will switch off when doors to the outside are opened (such as off the balconies of the birthing unit). Infrequently used (non patient) rooms will have timer lights.
Another contentious issue was the desire of the health department to connect to the West Byron sewerage treatment plant (STP) rather than building its own ‘blackwater’ plant onsite, as Byron Shire Council has requested.
Ms Loughnane said the sewerage situation with BSC was not ‘resolved’ but there was ‘an open dialogue’ about the issue.
She said that after several meetings with staff and deputy mayor Alan Hunter, she felt council was ‘much more understanding and willing to work with us in a constructive way’.
‘Health infrastructure is putting a new proposal to them,’ she added.
Some councillors have argued that the West Byron development, the new hospital and the proposed Ewingsdale ‘seniors’ development would take up all of the STP’s available capacity.
But Mr Crawford saw this as a plus, arguing, ‘initially implementing an onsite blackwater plant would be cheaper than what council was asking to connect to its STP but the operating cost was considerably more than ongoing connection fees.’
‘But with others in the area connecting ,’ he added, likely referring to the proposed seniors development, ‘it could be advantageous [to council] in terms of charging for connection.’
Parking and transport
The hospital will require the construction of yet another roundabout on Ewingsdale Road, and all traffic except ambulances and delivery vehicles will enter and exit the hospital via the roundabout.
The group were uncertain as to the exact number of car parking spaces – somewhere between 105 and 180 – but with up to a third of these being taken up by staff at any one time the audience queried whether it would be sufficient.
Buses will pull up outside the door of the hospital, Mr Crawford said, after an arrangement was reached with local bus companies. But whether any additional services were planned he was not able to say.