Fears for family drive $300m Wānaka hospital plan

The "helplessness" of watching his 2-week-old son struggling to breathe and having nowhere to turn for help is part of the inspiration behind Mike Saegers seeking fast-track approval to build a new $300 million hospital in Wānaka.

The Wānaka-based parent and Roa property investment company chief executive will be privately funding the project, which will comprise a five-level state-of-the-art facility with four operating theatres, imaging services, a 24-hour emergency department and more than 70 inpatient, emergency and post-anaesthetic care beds.

Mr Saegers said the facility would be located at Three Parks, in Sir Tim Wallis Dr, and would be at the heart of a broader health precinct which would include four new purpose-built buildings containing consulting and treatment rooms, on-site parking and ground-level retail and hospitality shops, opening out on to public pedestrian spaces.

He said the project was inspired by the "helplessness" he felt about the lack of health services in the area, during personal medical crises.

"For me, it’s about establishing a legacy.

"Two years ago, middle of winter, my pregnant wife and I were told by the midwife that we could either camp out in Dunedin, or try to make it to Charlotte Jean Maternity Hospital in Alexandra and risk having the child in the middle of the Cromwell Gorge, or we could have a home birth."

He said it was a worrying time, but they had a successful home birth.

However, the issue of the lack of hospital services in Wānaka came up again two weeks later when their baby boy started having trouble breathing.

An artist’s impression of the new $300 million state-of-the-art hospital to be built at Three...
An artist’s impression of the new $300 million state-of-the-art hospital to be built at Three Parks, in Wānaka. Photo: supplied
"We rang 111. There was only one ambulance and it wasn’t in town.

"That feeling of helplessness as a father, seeing my wife distraught, my 2-week-old son struggling to breathe — it was sort of an out-of-body experience and we had nowhere to go.

"So that really spurred me on to do this."

Mr Saegers said at this stage it had not yet been determined whether the hospital would be public or private, or a mix.

"We’ve talked to the public sector [Health New Zealand Te Whatu Ora] at two or three levels, to indicate our willingness for it to be open to everyone.

"But at the end of the day, I can’t make the decision as to whether the public sector is going to offer services out of the hospital.

"If they came to us and said they wanted to take over the whole hospital, we would sit down and talk about that," Mr Saegers said.

While the decision was pending, he said Roa would "crack on" and start the building process.

Mike Saegars
Mike Saegars
"While we’re cracking on with it, an agreement will be reached.

"I need to get an indication from the public sector about what they want, and then whatever is left over, I’ll find a private operator for it.

"It might be that we have a privately operated surgical facility with a public A&E on the ground."

He said Roa would engage a high-quality private healthcare operator to manage the hospital and there had already been strong interest from established operators in New Zealand, Australia and the United States.

There is similar strong interest in the commercial office space from specialist medical tenants interested in moving into the area.

Despite nationwide shortages of hospital staff, Mr Saegers said he did not foresee any problems with staffing the new hospital.

"I don’t think there will be problems at the specialist level because the specialists that would set up camp here, are already in Wānaka.

"From a general staffing perspective, the [healthcare] operators I’ve talked to have assured me of their confidence that they would be able to staff the hospital."

An artist’s impression of the proposed hospital to be built at Three Parks, Wānaka. Image: supplied
An artist’s impression of the proposed hospital to be built at Three Parks, Wānaka. Image: supplied
New Zealand architectural firm Warren and Mahoney has been engaged to design the hospital and surrounding health precinct, using cutting-edge sustainability principles targeting internationally recognised green building standards, in line with Roa’s commitment to delivering the very best outcomes for Wānaka’s future. The resource consent application process has begun with the Queenstown Lakes District Council.

However, it was anticipated this could take up to three years, prompting Roa to apply for the hospital to be a named project in schedule 2 of the government’s Fast-track Approvals Bill.

If approved, construction could begin within 15 months and the facility could be opened within 18-24 months after that.

Queenstown Lakes District Council deputy mayor and Wānaka resident Quentin Smith welcomed the announcement.

"We’re sorely underserviced for access to healthcare, both public and private.

"We certainly welcome the investment and the potential for additional resources in that space, and we’ll be continuing to advocate and look for investment in services delivering to our community.

"It’s part of the answer. The other part of the answer is Te Whatu Ora coming to the party.

"It’s not sufficient just to have private health services," he said.