I was absolutely delighted to head to Shellharbour and Port Kembla hospitals this week to celebrate with staff this really exciting announcement.
They were ecstatic with the news that we've been given support to build a brand new $700 million hospital on a greenfield site in Shellharbour.
It has been many years of planning, many conversations and scenarios, but we're thrilled to get the news we've been waiting for and can now get on with the job.
The significance of this project for our District and our community is enormous. It will enable some current services to double and others to expand even further.
This includes the Emergency Department, which will see a 100 per cent increase in current bed numbers and in operating theatres.
Add to that, sub-acute services such as Rehabilitation being co-located at the new hospital will signal major enhancements to services.
The Mental Health team at Shellharbour is absolutely thrilled with the confirmation of a greenfield site, which will enable state-of-the-art facilities that better support current models of care in mental health.
Of course with COVID-19 impacting mental health, we know that our services are more important to our community now than ever before, and will be long into the future, so this decision could not have come at a better time for mental health services.
This gives us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to not only rethink the bricks and mortar of our hospitals, but also look at redesigning the services we provide to our community ...
This gives us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to not only rethink the bricks and mortar of our hospitals, but also look at redesigning the services we provide to our community, and how they best connect to deliver a robust network of services.
This means the new Shellharbour Hospital will not be considered in isolation; we will look at the region's other major hospitals, Wollongong and Shoalhaven, to determine how the three can best work to deliver world-class services within a strong and resilient network of hospitals and Community Health services.
This will ensure the community has maximum benefit from all its local health facilities.
What is incredibly special is that we have an additional $1.2 billion worth of infrastructure development happening in our Local Health District over the next 3-5 years.
We also want to incorporate the lessons, the insights and the many breakthroughs we've made as a health service during COVID, and be able to future-proof our services and the buildings that house them.
We must consider our carbon footprint and the impact of the environment on local communities and local health services.
Modern hospitals also have significant technological capabilities that will further support contemporary models of care for our community.
It's an incredibly exciting time for our staff and for the community that we will be able to work from the ground up in developing all of these features.
Our next steps have already started; our teams have started reviewing the existing Clinical Services Plan to see what we might need to consider or rethink in the context of what we've learned over the past six months especially.
We want to have a range of plans in place by the end of the year, including a preferred site for the new hospital.
We know this project will deliver world-class clinical care, but it will be a huge boost to the local economy, supporting up to 2800 full-time direct jobs during construction, something that could not have come at a better time for our region.
We hope that it will give us an opportunity to attract additional highly skilled and dedicated health professionals to care for our local residents.
Staff at both hospitals, and indeed across our LHD, have been passionate advocates for the greenfield site option and it has been a long journey to this point.
The District has been incredibly buoyed by the support Shellharbour's greenfield redevelopment has garnered including from commonwealth, state and local governments.
Special acknowledgment to our board chair, Professor Denis King, who remained steadfast in his commitment to campaign for a greenfield site for this hospital project and the many staff who have diligently and patiently worked toward this announcement.
Let's not forgot the new hospital is still a few years away and until then, we will continue to deliver world-class care to our communities thanks to hardworking and dedicated staff.
- Margot Mains is chief executive of Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District.