The truth is out there

St Vincents Hospital to shut rehab unit

Its official: The St Vincents Hospital rehabilitation unit will close this Friday, December 15, forcing the North Coast Area Health Service (NCAHS) to implement a contingency plan so rehabilitation services are maintained and 27 staff can keep their jobs.

After eight weeks of negotiations following an acrimonious meeting at the Lismore Workers Club, the two organisations have been unable to come to an agreement on how much the NCAHS should pay for public rehabilitation services. The NCAHS claims St Vincents wanted almost double what the NCAHS currently pays for comparative services at Murwillumbah Hospital.

However, St Vincents Hospital maintains the NCAHS offer was below the national health fund rate and believes NCAHS chief executive Chris Crawford had no intention of negotiating rehabilitation services on a fair remuneration basis.

The other sticking point between the two has been how staff would be employed should the rehabilitation unit remain open.

Mr Crawford claims St Vincents would only consider keeping the staff if they resigned and accepted payment under the private hospital award, which is a lesser rate with fewer entitlements than the public health service award. Mr Crawford said the NCAHS offered to subsidise the difference in rates, but St Vincents were not willing to acquiesce. However, St Vincents CEO Bob Walsh said there was always a clear understanding from both parties that the public rehabilitation staff were Mr Crawfords responsibility.

Readers may be feeling confused at this juncture, which is no surprise, as the two organisations have consistently given conflicting reports about the reasons behind the closure throughout the protracted negotiations.

The stoush began back in mid-October when a shock revelation at a public meeting confirmed St Vincents Hospital planned to close its 33-bed rehabilitation unit on December 15. St Vincents claimed the NCAHS failed to respond to their request for increased payments to continue operating rehabilitation beds. However, Mr Crawford produced a letter showing that the NCAHS had in fact replied. St Vincents CEO Bob Walsh claimed he never received the letter and when it surfaced maintained that their decision was final.

Haggling over the issue seems to have changed little, with the contingency plan that was developed in October soon after the revelation now being implemented.

The only positive outcome from recent negotiations appears to be an agreement to allow both rehabilitation inpatients and outpatients access to the hydrotherapy pool at the St Vincents rehabilitation unit, for a fee yet to be disclosed.The Carroll Centre at St Vincents will also continue providing outpatient rehabilitation services.

Under the contingency plan, rehabilitation services in Lismore will be maintained with 12 rehabilitation beds at Lismore Base Hospital and another 12 rehabilitation and six transitional care beds at Ballina District Hospital. These beds will remain in place until a new Ballina facility opens in February 2008, which will include 24 beds. Lismore Base Hospital will also provide 24 beds when the third stage of its redevelopment is complete, although this is some years away.

Patients at the St Vincents rehabilitation unit will be transferred from the current unit to Lismore Base Hospital during the New Year holiday.

As Agent Mulder famously said, the truth is out there.

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