Meeting on hospital gets heated

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
Tension ran high at a community meeting about the future of the Oamaru Hospital on Friday night.

About 150 people gathered at the Scottish Hall in Oamaru to air their concerns about the proposal to restructure the hospital.

Former Oamaru Hospital nursing manager and interim chief executive Dr Janice Clayton, organised the meeting and gave members of the community a chance to have their say.

Topics included the process that staff had been given for consultation on the restructure proposal, communication with staff and the community by Waitaki District Health Services, the organisation's deficit, Southern DHB funding, the Observatory Retirement Village, and nurses' pay and redundancy options.

Hospital staff members, or representatives of them, were at the meeting. There were allegations they had been "gagged", and were warned by meeting organisers not to go into detail about the "proposal for change", which would be a breach of their contracts.

Comments were aimed at Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher, who was at the meeting. Some concerned his role as the elected leader of the district; some targeted him as a representative for the Waitaki District Council, which owns the hospital.

In explaining the situation, including the legalities and obligations relating to councillors and the mayor, Mr Kircher seemed to strike a nerve for Dr Clayton and other members of the community.

Conversation over microphones between Mr Kircher and Dr Clayton became heated, and Mr Kircher was shut down and asked to take his seat.

Later, he was allowed to address the crowd again, as many other speakers made comments about council obligations and other ways to fund the hospital.

"I am fully in support of what I think most attendees would also want - a hospital with the best possible healthcare possible for our people," Mr Kircher said.

"With the restructure, though, there are always the other understandably vested interests of people's jobs, and these are people who care a lot about what they do - not to mention the community which also cares very much about what our hospital staff do."

There was a demand for another urgent community meeting with representatives from Waitaki District Health Services.

Mr Kircher said another community meeting scheduled for late March had been moved forward to early March, but he said he would push for it to be held this week.

"Fundamentally, there does need to be change at the hospital - I understand that even Janice was intending to do that if she had stayed on in the role of acting chief executive," Mr Kircher said.

"It is making sure that it is done as smoothly as possible and that we get the result that we want - a solid foundation of an effective, efficient hospital service that we can add services to, and grow it to be the best rural hospital in New Zealand, with some services that even the people in main centres would love."

A group was formed from Friday night's community meeting to put some ideas that came from the meeting into action.

Suggestions for opposing the restructure were a petition to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and a march through the streets of Oamaru.

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