Major job boost mooted for Valley

Long-term plans for Latrobe Regional Hospital’s further expansion could be brought forward in a bid to boost jobs as part of the broader transition of the Valley’s economy.

LRH floated the idea with State Government ministers during their visits to the region last week to gauge thoughts from local stakeholders on the region’s transition.

Major work is already underway to expand the emergency department, build a short stay unit, two day rooms for endoscopy procedures, a cardiac catheterisation laboratory and two new 32-bed wards.

This stage is expected to be complete by about August next year and LRH board chair Kellie O’Callaghan said following this, there was the potential to start the next stage of development immediately if State Government funding was made available.

The work would include new operating theatres and a critical care unit.

“In the event that a more substantial jobs creation project is not available for an immediate start in the Latrobe Valley in the short term, consideration could also be given to providing the commitment to the completion of the entire LRH master planned development,” Ms O’Callaghan said.

“The benefits of this redevelopment are not only the growth of health sector service enhancements and related employment opportunities, but also education and training options with local providers, and infrastructure development in itself will create construction jobs for a period of years.”

It is currently unclear exactly how many jobs could result from the project, but Ms O’Callaghan said it would be twice as large as the current stage, which at its peak will employ 200 people.

Ms O’Callaghan said the hospital was open to discussion with government regarding new ways to ensure locals got a large chunk of the jobs and contracts.

“We also believe that with the appropriate structuring of purchasing arrangements and service supply contracts the expanded health service could provide a range of opportunities for small and medium businesses locally,” she said.

It comes in the wake of this year’s state budget announcement of $40 million to help the Latrobe Valley transition away from its economic reliance on the coal-fired power industry and recent speculation Hazelwood could close as early as April next year, casting a shadow over more than 800 direct and indirect jobs.

Completing the entire LRH master plan project is estimated to cost about $300 million and Ms O’Callaghan said government funding would need to be new money separate to the $40 million package.

She said she did not want the hospital’s suggestion to take away from any viable transition projects already on the table.

Ms O’Callaghan said ideally there would be “a range of project opportunities, industry redevelopments and attraction options afforded to government” as part of the region’s transition.

“We, like many in the community hope that the best possible options for transition for our community are explored, and implemented as quickly as possible,” she said.

“We do however, stand ready to bring the LRH redevelopment online as soon as possible to assist the community in any way we can.”

Ten million out of the state’s $40 million package will be used as an ‘economic facilitation fund’ to help existing businesses grow and to attract new employment opportunities to the area, however the detail is yet to be revealed on how the remainder will be spent.

Hazelwood owner Engie maintains no decision has been made on the plant’s future.

State Health minister Jill Hennessy said the government was working side-by-side with LRH to deliver the current construction works.

“As with any major hospital redevelopment, work occurs in stages,” Ms Hennessy said.

“The government will continue to work with the hospital to build on previous master-planning and explore future capital funding considerations in the context of broader statewide priorities.”

State Industry and Employment Minister Wade Noonan said the government’s $40 million program was about growing existing local businesses, investing in skills and training, and bringing in new industries and businesses to create local jobs .

“The government will be making further announcements over the coming months,” Mr Noonan said.