Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Pambula District Hospital - A vital community facility for more than 110 years

Originally opening its doors as the Eden - Pambula Cottage Hospital, the Pambula District Hospital is now struggling to maintain services as the NSW state government and the Greater Southern Area Health Service, in an ill advised attempt to save money, continue to cut back amenities vital to resident health and well being.

It was after Dr. C. W. Morgan arrived in the district in 1898 to take over Dr. Stoney’s practice that he recognised the need for the a hospital. No newcomer to the importance of such facilities, Dr Morgan had been involved with the Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney prior to his move to Pambula, first as one of the prime movers in its establishment and then later occupying the position as first surgeon.

After his arrival at Pambula, Dr. Morgan moved quickly to purchase a building from Job Koerber on the corner of Toalla and Narregol Streets around August 1898 and called a public meeting in September to discuss the establishment of the semi-private facility. During that gathering, a provisional committee consisting of Messrs. Hungerford, Baddeley, Wilkins, Pfeiffer and Small was appointed with responsibilities including providing financial support, paying for public patients unable to afford their own treatment and drawing up, together with Dr. Morgan, the rules governing the institution.

Residents, keen to see the facility come to fruition, threw their weight behind the hospital and nearby Merimbula had the honour of holding the district’s first fund raiser. Featuring a concert and ball, children’s dance and Bruce auction, the event raised a grand total of £7/2/4.

Although it was initially planned to have the institution ready by October 1898, completion was delayed and in December 1898 the local Pambula Voice newspaper reported that “We are pleased to notice that the building to be used as a district hospital is nearing completion and the work is being pushed on as rapidly as possible. We understand that the institution will be ready for the reception of patients at the beginning of the new year." The opening finally took place on January 17, 1899, and despite the fact that it was such an important event for the whole district, there seems to have been little fan fare connected with it.

The original building of what was then known as the Eden - Pambula Cottage Hospital.

Fund-raising necessarily became a community and district wide responsibility. As well as the annual ball, events included dramatic entertainment, Christmas parties, children's parties, garden parties, minstrel club entertainment, dances and bazaars, all held at various centres from Kiah to Wolumla, Burragate and Rocky Hall. Collections were also held at various places - in 1901, Mr H. Ubrien collected £2/2/- from the residents of Pipeclay Creek, and in 1905 Mrs Tweedie of South Pambula collected shillings to provide new linoleum for the institution. In 1899, Mr W. Dowling Senior of South Pambula sent in £6, the proceeds of the sale of a little school room erected at that place but which apparently never eventuated.

Despite these efforts, however, Dr. Morgan was carrying the institution at a financial loss and by 1903 was considering closing it down. In February that year he called another public meeting in the Pambula School of Arts to discuss the situation. After committee President Mr. C. A. Baddeley explained the object, reporting that the institution could be closed, Mr Hungerford proposed that "The public undertake to pay the Matron's salary, in addition to the expenses of public patients, as hitherto, for the ensuing 12 months..." By this time few centres outside Pambula were providing financial support, with the important exceptions of Merimbula and Pipeclay Creek - both communities remained staunch supporters of the hospital through both good times and bad. After Mr. Hungerford’s motion was adopted, other centres served by the facility were lobbied to provide greater support, and although financial problems continued to threaten the hospital’s existence for a number of years, the local community always managed to come through to ensure the survival of what continues to be a vital facility.

In an effort to ensure the facility’s financial viability, membership fees for private patients were increased to 10/6 and a subscription list was left at numerous business houses throughout the entire district. Cost cutting measures were also introduced, and were maintained right up until after the public health system took over the institution. This involved local residents donating whatever they could to save the hospital the expense of purchasing goods. Counted amongst the donations received over the years was linen, flowers, cakes, vegetables and other necessities. In 1935 substantial donations of fruit enabled Matron Grove to make up nearly a years supply of jams and preserves, and when similar actions were called for in 1937, local general store keepers Walker Brothers and Co. offered their trucks to collect fruit from outside centres. Local schools frequently held "egg days", and in October 1931 the Eden Magnet newspaper reported that "As a result of the response to the appeal for eggs for Pambula hospital, 150 dozen have been placed in preservative for hospital use." Lochiel school children always seemed to make a special effort on behalf of the hospital, collecting pennies, making pillow cases, and in 1932 it was reported that the students were making weekly donations of vegetables from their school garden. To ensure reading material for patients, the local School of Arts library also passed on magazines as soon as that institution was finished with them.

Heating, cooking and hot water in the hospital was wood fuelled, so “wood days” were another way that those who could not afford to give cash could nonetheless contribute to the institution. In January 1917, the Pambula Voice reported that "The hospital committee will appreciate a few loads of wood from persons who feel they can assist, and do so in lieu of money, to a worthy object. Any person obliging will receive due credit as if it was in cash." Local sleeper cutters were one group who were strong supporters of such donations, often banding together to cut, load, transport and unload the wood needed by the hospital. In May 1934, twenty-seven cutters from Pambula and Eden assembled at the Broadwater Pine Plantation to cut a huge quantity of firewood for the facility, transporting it to the hospital on lorries the next day.

Nonetheless, by March 1904, the facility was again in dire financial straights, so another public meeting was called. The community decided to continue the hospital under new arrangements, subscribers taking over complete responsibility for operating the facility; paying ten shillings a week to Dr. Morgan for building and furniture rent; and paying £5/5/- a year for medicine. Dr. Morgan also offered to see public patients free of charge, something he continued to do until his departure from the district the following year. After Mr Baddeley pointed out that if the community did not take over the hospital on these condition they could loose it altogether, the meeting voted unanimously to accept the challenge and a new committee consisting of Messrs J. H. Martin (President), H. H. Hungerford (Vice President), J. N. Small (Secretary and Treasurer), P. Doherty, C. A. Baddeley, W. D. Pfeiffer and A. Arguimbau were elected to run the institution. New rules were also drawn up and the institution opened under the new arrangements.

The new committee now began to consider ways and means of securing government subsidies to assist in the operation of the facility, and when he became aware of their efforts, local member Mr. Wood threw his support behind the group. In an effort the secure the subsidies, the committee also moved to bring the facility in line with government requirements, and in 1906, were informed that they had been successfully granted government assistance.

By 1905, Dr Morgan had decided that the time had come to move on, but the hospital was not without medical support for long - his successor, Dr Howell, volunteered for the job and continued to provide gratuitous service to hospital patients. He was assisted in his task by Dr Dryden Stead of Bega who wrote in October 1905 "...that it gave him great pleasure to accept the invite of the committee to become honorary medical officer..."

As a result of Dr Morgan's departure, the committee also looked to buy the hospital facility from him. At a public meeting held in December, it was decided to take up this option to purchase at a price of £100. Mr Baddeley spoke with his usual concern, stating "...the long suffering public had to bear the brunt of it." Referring to the number of local efforts on behalf of the institution during the preceding 12 months, he said these had been a heavy tax. He pointed out that if the whole area got behind it, it was possible but that Pambula could not do it alone. As a result, the motion was carried unanimously, and a bazaar, held over the two nights of the 1906 Pambula Show netted £191/15/-. The hospital was eventually purchased from Dr Morgan for £150 with all the furniture included.

By 1906, lack of space had led to patient waiting lists, while separate operating room and infectious cases wards apart from the general building were also required. As a result, tenders were called in November 1906 for the erection of two additional rooms, local builder Job Koerber's for £40/7/6 being accepted, subject to work being completed within a specified time frame. Completion of the operating theatre was noted in January 1907 and in March the Pambula Voice reported that it had been "...equipped with almost every modern contrivance including operating table, instrument and dressing table and instrument cabinet." The separate infectious cases ward however seems to have been left in abeyance.

This extension work brought to the fore the lack of space available on the original site, and at a December 1906 meeting, the subject of appointing a sub-committee to recommend a new site was raised. The subject came up again by June 1907, and Mr. Small moved that the committee make arrangement to obtain a new location. Sites considered included the southern slope of Quarry Hill; the eastern end of Toalla Street; and a block on the eastern side of Mr. Martin’s property on the beach road. After the Chairman pointed out that securing the site immediately would enable clearing to commence, the motion was carried and in 1908 the allotment upon which the present hospital still stands was selected. By May the property had been gazetted and a start was made to clear the site.

Dr. John Fortesque Grantley Fitzharding (left) had taken over, together with his wife, also a Dr. as the local medical officers when the second Pambula Hospital was built.
When the subject of constructing the new building was considered, Mr. William Stafford of local brick making fame offered to donate 25,000 bricks, and a Mr. Richards donated a block land in 1914 that was expected to add between £30 and £40 to the coffers. In March 1911, the hospital committee met and approved plans for the new facility, but had to confront complications after the Health Department refused to pass them due to the lack of a separate isolation ward. Pambula’s Catholic Minister Father Kenny took the opportunity of a visit to Sydney to call of Mr. Griffith and the head of the Board of the Health Department, in the process practically obtaining an agreement that the old hospital could be utilised as an infectious diseases ward. Nonetheless, it was still necessary to alter the plans, a job once again entrusted to Job Koerber, who was also awarded the building contact after tenders were called.

When her husband was accepted into the military in 1916 his wife Clara Fitzhardinge (left) continued to carry on their practice during his absence.

Fundraising continued, and construction finally commenced around January 1914. The committee was able to access substantial government aid for the new building, including a special £600 grant obtained by local MP Mr. W. H. Wood. However, just months after construction began, World War I broke out, leading to a dramatic escalation in both the cost and availability of building materials of all kinds. Suddenly the committee found themselves with all of their funds eaten up and the building only half completed. Six months before the planned opening of the hospital, it appeared that the committee was in very real financial trouble, but new local member Captain Millard managed to secure additional government funding of £400 which, combined with special fund raising efforts district wide provided sufficient money to get the premises to opening stage. At the time, the new hospital had cost a total if £2130, to which the government had contributed £1000, the remainder being raised by the dedicated efforts of residents across the district. The government later contributed an additional £100 to assist with furnishing the new hospital.

Staff and the management committee at the opening of the second Pambula Hospital in 1917.

The ongoing war efforts brought another problem to the fore – that of securing permanent nursing staff. As a result, it was found necessary to shut down the old hospital, the doors closing in July 1916. The local community was then forced to do without its hospital for a period of about six months until the new facility opened.

Finally, on January 17, 1917, on the 18th anniversary of the opening the original building, the new hospital was officially opened. Although either the Honourable J. D. Fitzgerald, Minister for Health, or the Honourable J. D. Storey, in conjunction with Captain Millard, were supposed to perform the ceremony, due to some emergency, possibly war related, none were able to be present, so it fell to hospital committee president Mr. J. H. Martin to perform the honours and after turning the key, he declared the new hospital open. New trustees in Messrs M. Longhurst, C. A. Baddeley and J. H. Martin were appointed and soon after the opening, on the motion of Mr. English, the committee resolved unanimously to change the name of the institution to the present day Pambula District Hospital.

After recommendation by the Hospitals Commission, Pambula adopted the Systematic Contributions Scheme, under which every married member contributed one shilling a week while every single person contributed six pence a week, entitling them, their wives and children under 17 to free hospital treatment. Those not covered were charged £3/3/- a week for use of a public ward or £4/4/- for a private ward. By 1931 the Systematic Contributions Scheme at Pambula District Hospital had grown to number five hundred subscribers.

Nursing staff on the steps of the Pambula District Hospital, C. 1920's.

Around 1920, Pambula became the proud owner of the first x-ray plant on the far south coast, but by 1930, the committee had decided that a more up-to-date plant and dark room were required. After the government said they would pay pound for pound subsidy on the equipment, estimated to cost £500, local medico Dr. Lindon Wing kicked off the fund raising effort with a £100 donation. After a public meeting in January 1930, efforts began in earnest, but by August, the government announced that they had withdrawn all subsidies, although they would extend a loan for such equipment. Thus when the committee found that they had just £250 in hand by December, it became necessary to abandon the project. The x-ray plant was back on the agenda by 1936, and in 1937, after considerable negotiation, the Hospitals Commission finally advised the Board of Directors that is was prepared to proceed with the plant. Installation was completed in 1938.

In September 1932, a committee was finally appointed to report on the need to provide accommodation for a maternity ward. After a proposal was put forth in June 1933 to proceed with the facility, the government indicated their willingness to provide half of the estimated £1098 necessary, with the balance in the form of a three per cent loan repayable by the board over fifteen years. In this day and age it is difficult to conceive the importance of a maternity facility to local women, but before the addition of a ward at the local hospital, women either had to book into a private maternity hospital or have their children at home. There was no place for a pregnant woman in a general hospital, despite any complications that may arise and this was one of the prime reasons so many women and children died during child birth. Private maternity hospitals had been run by Nurse Cousemacker at 6 Bullara Street and directly across the street at 5 Bullara Street, but these seem have closed down by the time the proposal to erect the maternity wing at the Pambula District Hospital came up. The community voted by a large majority at a public meeting on Pambula in July to support the Board in their endeavours and the facility began accepting patients in May 1934. With Sister Baxter appointed to take change of the unit, Mr. W. H. Hedges performed the official opening on June 2, 1934 and the same month the unit welcomed its first arrival, a daughter, to Mr and Mrs N. Rankin of South Pambula. In the following twelve months thirty three young Australians began their life in the new maternity unit, with another fifty four the following year. The final cost of the unit, in addition to the provision of better accommodation for nursing staff and the installation of up-to-date sterilising equipment came in at around £1600, of which the Board contributed £800. Just after the opening of the ward, a Mrs Thornett from Sydney sent a donation of £25 to the maternity unit in response to a report in a metropolitan newspaper of the bravery and devotion to duty displayed by Drs Lindon and Naomi Wing, who had been forced to wade through the flooded waters of Saltwater Creek, at great personal risk, in order to attend to patients.

In the wake of hard financial times during the Depression, new fund raising ideas were adopted. The Dr’s Wing opened their garden at The Retreat (now Covington’s) for an afternoon tea party and District Hospital Carnival, while in 1936, a football match between the Pambula Buccaneers and Lochiel was held with Matron Grove having the honour of kicking off to start the game. That year, after a diphtheria epidemic filled the wards to capacity, the hospital found it necessary to send patients to nearby Bega for treatment. In an attempt to prevent such an event from occurring again, the hospital participated in an immunisation program for local primary school students, also sending a nurse to Eden to assist with a similar program later the same year.

By 1937 further extensions and improvements were necessary, including provision of a nursery for the maternity unit, a Matron’s room and an office, installation of water and sewerage systems, steam and hot water service, sterilising room and steam sterilising equipment, sink rooms, boiler house and allied engineering services. With works estimated to cost almost £4000, the Hospitals Commission contributed half the coast as a grant, with the remainder provided as a twenty year loan. When a further wing was required in 1939, William Stafford Senior offered to have his sons reopen their South Pambula works to supply the necessary bricks. At the same time the Board also decided to co-operate with a request to establish a first aid class at Pambula.

Pambula District Hospital C. 1940's/50's.

In 1946, however, the institution faced a crisis when the four nursing sisters left their positions, leaving the hospital without the necessary staff. Nonetheless, disaster was averted when Sister McCabe, visiting the district at the time, combined forces with former nurse Mrs. J. E. Bennett to step into the fold and provide the necessary care until staff replacements could be secured. In answer to requirements for new nurses’ quarters by April 1949, the Commission’s building programme gave it a high priority.

By the 1970's, the community had once again outgrown the institution and a third hospital building was planned. Construction of the new facility was carried out by K. B. Hutchinson, and after completion, was officially opened on 18 April 1980 by the Honourable Kevin Stewart, M. P. Minister for Health. Since then an up-to-date community health centre has been added to the complex.

Above and below: Going, going, gone... demolition of the 
second Pambula District Hospital, C. 1979.

However, despite the ongoing value the community and tourists alike place on the facility, the NSW State Government and their mouth piece the Greater Southern Area Health Service have moved to consistently downgrade the facility, cutting funding and services. General surgery and gynaecological surgery including emergency procedures, paediatric and maternity admissions services have been slashed and plastic surgical lists have been consistently reduced.

Nonetheless, the community has determined to fight the planned downgrading and ultimate closure of the facility. A petition containing more than 22,000 signatures handed to local Bega MP Andrew Constance in March 2009 demanded that the state government return services to our local hospital. Mr. Constance then submitted the petition to parliament, but in a move that raised outrage with local residents, health minister John Della Bosca failed to recognise or respond to the document.

(Left) District residents rally to make themselves heard over their disgust at the downgrading of hospital facilities at Pambula.

Check out the website to find out just what the community is doing to defeat efforts to take away our vital hospital facilities. You can also visit the Merimbula - Imlay Historical Society's Old School Museum in Main Street Merimbula to check out their new exhibition on the history of the Pambula District Hospital. http://www.savepambulahospital.com/index.html 

© Angela George.

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