Plans for a purpose-built Illawarra Children’s Assessment Unit had been gathering dust until the Cotton On Foundation chose Wollongong as its new fun run location.
Now, with the funds raised from the inaugural Run Wollongong on this Sunday, Wollongong Hospital director of paediatrics Dr Susie Piper expects the first sod to be turned on the North Wollongong centre by the end of the year.
The facility, which will expand upon the current centre at Porter Street, should be complete by the end of 2014.
Dr Piper said it would allow more families across the Illawarra and Shoalhaven to access services and more quickly, allowing for early intervention.
‘‘The unit offers assessment and diagnosis of children with developmental delays and learning difficulties, particularly autism,’’ she said.
‘‘The unit is operating already but cannot cater to the demand, with families having to wait six to nine months to get an appointment or being forced to travel outside the area to access services.
‘‘Several years ago plans were drawn up to refurbish the existing building and for extensions, but they were shelved due to lack of funding.
‘‘Thanks to the Cotton On Foundation we have been able to revisit these plans and make them a reality.’’
The new unit will consist of a range of counselling and therapy rooms, an outdoor play area, an outpatient clinic plus two purpose-built consultation areas.
‘‘One of the challenges when assessing development delay, is that it can be quite confronting for kids to come into a room full of people such as paediatricians, psychologists and social workers,’’ Dr Piper said.
‘‘Having a purpose-built assessment room which is more like a playroom, where one worker can interact with the child while others observe from another room through a one-way mirror, means the child is far less intimidated.’’
Dr Piper said Run Wollongong would also fund an upgrade of Wollongong Hospital’s children’s ward over the next few years.
‘‘In the short term we’d like to create a new indoor play area and an outdoor play area,’’ she said.
‘‘The vision is to provide a one-stop shop for paediatrics that incorporates in-patients, but in addition features an assessment and short-stay unit.
‘‘We’d also like to expand out-patient services and improve facilities for parents so they have somewhere nice to relax and have a cup of tea.’’
Visit the Run Wollongong website for more information.