South East hospital boss acknowledges failings, plans way forward

There’s been acknowledgement from management the model of public health care and medical facilities in the Bega Valley have not lived up to expectations.

Southern NSW Local Health District chief executive Janet Compton spoke exclusively to Fairfax Media on Thursday afternoon. She said she understood community concerns, and assured there was a way forward.

In recent revelations, the Bega Valley Health Service general manager Heather Austin has retired and director of medical services Dr Geraldine MacCarrick is also gone.

Ms Compton said Ms Austin’s retirement was for “family and health reasons”, while Dr MacCarrick was “an interesting appointment” who came with a lot of academic experience “and we weren’t ready for someone of that calibre yet and she realised the work was not right for her so made a choice to go back to Canberra”.

In the interim, Cherie Puckett has taken on the acting general manager role while a permanent appointment is sought, hopefully by early in the new year Ms Compton said.

Chief executive Janet Compton

Chief executive Janet Compton

Pambula Hospital and its nurse-led model has also been a subject of considerable community concern. Most recently, Margaret Kirkwood’s harrowing experience of being turned away from the clinic while suffering significant bruising and injuries to her face.

“Margaret’s story just really was a point of escalation for me,” Ms Compton said.

“I’ve seen amazing communities with amazing people really committed to their health services.

“As terrible as Margaret’s story was, what it’s done is initiate a whole lot of awareness and action about what we needed to do.

“Again I really apologise that was the experience she had. My commitment is to drive positive patient experience and engagement with the communities.”

Ms Compton said she was meeting with the Pambula Hospital Consultative Committee this week to discuss plans for big communication strategy about what is the role of Pambula – “where you go for emergency and what can be done here”.

She said work was being done on what was the right thing to do for the assessment, treatment and care (ATC) model at Pambula Hospital.

“We’re doing a lot of work around the model of care that will allow the nurses to do a lot more than they were able to under the first model,” Ms Compton said.

“We admit we didn’t get it right in the first run, but some of the work we’re doing now will make the ATC more user-friendly for the community.”

Ms Compton said it will stay a nurse-led model, with no plans to appoint a doctor over summer as some have suggested, “we just need to get the model right”.

“I know there’s concern about access to medical staff, but we need to use the  emergency department at the regional hospital much more effectively.

“We need SERH to understand this [Pambula] is part of their ED and they need to provide a responsive service.

“There have been a number of teething problems and I recognise the hospital has not lived up to the promise that was given when it was opening.”

Ms Compton also raised the idea of trialling a patient transport program between Pambula and Bega over summer, as well as increasing recruitment of nursing and medical staff in coming months.

“We’re looking to open a short stay unit adjacent to the ED and to open the rehab unit,” she said.

“We believe in February, when the new graduate nurses come on board, that we’ll have an increase in staff that will allow us to do that.

“We’ll recruit across the district a number of new graduates. We’ve also done overseas recruiting and we’ve recruited some very experienced nurses from overseas.

“I think in February we’ll really see a real increase in our capacity to open extra beds.”