THE Bellingen community has taken another important step forward as it bunkers down to prevent any further downgrading of its hospital.
At a meeting on Wednesday night the newly incorporated Bellinger Health Action Group (BHAG) elected its first executive, revealed a growing war chest and outlined its strategy to take the fight up to the North Coast Area Health Service.
BHAG’s new chair Pia Dollmann urged the gathering of around 70 people to continue their grass roots letter-writing campaign to politicians, the area health service and media outlets.
”You are helping build our case for the retention of services at the hospital,” Ms Dollmann said.
“At this stage we have had no satisfactory replies to our demands for assurances about the security of services at the hospital, so we need to continue raising the issue in the public arena.”
BHAG secretary elect and head of the fun(d)-raising committee, Gai Stern, said the organisation now had more than $13,000 in it’s coffers.
”We’ve raised about $16,000 but have had to spend around $3000 on lobbying, promotions and very importantly insurance,” Ms Stern said.
She said a Bellingen Hospital Fundraising account had been opened at the town’s BCU branch and she encouraged supporters to shop at IGA supermarkets.
”Through the IGA community benefits program we’ve actually raised $3742 already, so shopping there supports us in a big way.”
The meeting also heard of plans to address issues related to the deterioration of hospital buildings. Dr Trevor Cheney said he believed the Area Health Service was deliberately neglecting maintenance to support it’s case for withdrawing services.
”We have to stop emphasising the decline of the buildings so that issue can’t be used against us,” Dr Cheney said. The head of BHAG’s fix-it committee Barbara Moore said the community was already getting organised to contribute to the restoration of the hospital’s buildings and grounds.
“We will soon begin a volunteer makeover of the gardens,” Ms Moore said.
“We are also looking at how we can re-roof the main Hewitt building which is still leaking, and we are assessing the prospect of installing a solar hot water system which will reduce the running costs of the hospital.”