As a teenager, Jane MacAllister rode her bike 64 kilometres to raise money for Mildura Base Hospital (MBH), never imagining it would transform into an environment where staff are treated as “disposable commodities” and patients are “put last”, she said.
While a freedom of information and medico-legal officer at the hospital, Ms MacAllister saw how for-profit operator Ramsay Health Care created a “terrible culture to work under”.
The hospital has also been plagued by complaints about patient care and claims of negligence.
Now a Wentworth Shire Councillor, Ms MacAllister says MBH has the potential to be a “world best-standard facility”.
Ramsay Health Care’s almost two-decade-long tenure at MBH will come to an end after its management contract expires in September next year.
The publicly funded hospital will be placed fully in the hands of the Victorian government for the first time since opening in 2000.
Premier Daniel Andrews visited Mildura on Friday to officially announce the public takeover, saying the government is “best-placed to build a bigger, better, broader” hospital.
Health care is not about profits,” Mr Andrews said.
“It’s about patients and it’s about making sure every member of this local community … can get the very best care today, tomorrow and indeed that we improve the level of care as part of a constant culture of improvement.”
A MBH doctor who did not wish to be named said while there has been a sense of “absolute relief”, some staff are “slightly on tenterhooks” over how smooth the transition to public management will be.
“We just hope that they [Ramsay Health Care] don’t do anything in their power to making it a difficult transition,” Sarah (name changed) said.
“People are also questioning what this means for them and their positions.”
Mildura resident Ben Stevenson knows not to expect an “instant change” to the hospital, saying it will be at least 12 months before any significant improvements are made.
But that didn’t stop him from toasting the government’s history-making decision with a couple of celebratory drinks.
His eight-year-old son recently attended MBH after falling off a trampoline and injuring his elbow.
Mr Stevenson said doctors X-rayed his shoulder, ignoring complaints his elbow was hurting.
“You could see that there was big bruising and swelling around his elbow. They didn’t even look at it so we had to go and get fresh X-rays done [at a radiologist clinic], which then exposes a young child to more radiation.”
Local Carol Brandrick said she is “still suffering” almost a year after MBH doctors misdiagnosed her fractured finger, leaving her with a permanent disfigurement.
“When I tried to get my hand therapy done there, I was told, ‘No we don’t have any hand therapists’,” Ms Brandrick said.
“My actual hand therapist that I was paying to see offered her services at the hospital and they rejected her, they didn’t want her there.
“A public system would be able to put that in place.”
The news of the hospital’s return to public management “is just wonderful” Ms Brandrick said, given the community has “petitioned and spoken up so much because of the lack of care”.
MBH chief executive CEO Julia Morgan said Ramsay Health Care has “worked very hard to ensure we delivered excellent care and high-quality outcomes for patients”.
“We are very proud of the fact that after almost two decades of Ramsay management, there has not been any major quality, safety or performance issues,” Ms Morgan said in a statement on Thursday.
“We tried everything we could to retain operation of the hospital, but we respect the decision to return the hospital to the state, and will work with the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure a smooth transition.”
Ramsay Health Care was contacted for comment.