MEMBER for Morwell Russell Northe is leading the call for a dedicated hospice care facility to be set up in the Latrobe Valley.
An idea that would utilise the vacant Hazelwood House precinct in Churchill, which closed in 2019, Mr Northe wrote to Health Minister Martin Foley about this proposition in May.
It follows a motion moved by the Latrobe City Council in 2019 asking the state government to work with them in finding a suitable location for hospice care in the region.
Mr Northe said the Hazelwood House site serves as an “ideal and unique” opportunity for the state government to deliver a much needed hospice care facility to the Latrobe Valley.
“Essentially we have Hazelwood House, which was previously an aged care facility in Churchill, currently sitting idle and my view is we could use this facility as a dedicated palliative care hospice for the region,” Mr Northe said.
“To me it’s just an ideal setting for a hospice, it offers 38 beds, it is already built, it is on a beautiful tract of land and to me it is a no-brainer for the state government to seriously consider placing a hospice on site as they don’t need to find land, don’t need to find buildings, it is all already here.”
He described how the palliative care system currently operates in the Latrobe Valley and why a dedicated facility is extremely important.
“While everyone in the palliative care system does a marvellous job the only opportunities we have locally at the moment are in home or in a hospital environment,” he said.
“(As a result) some people are calling for a dedicated facility where people can be with their loved ones at the end of life with dedicated palliative care nurses and have that spiritual and environmental aspect that can only be provided by a hospice, and it is something I’m certainly supportive of along with a number of families and individuals.”
Mr Northe detailed his communication with the state government about the idea of re-purposing Hazelwood House and their responses to date.
“I have had a little bit of toing and froing with the Health Minister and his office in respect to this idea and they have advised me that Latrobe Regional Hospital are doing some work in the space of palliative care, but to me this is a different argument all together,” he said.
“What we are looking for here and as the Latrobe Health Advocate said, we need a dedicated hospice in the region and that is what I am advocating for – so I have again gone back to the Minister for Health and explained the situation and pleaded to explore this option of using Hazelwood House as a residential facility where we can provide palliative care services for local families.”
The first recommendation in the Latrobe Health Advocate’s report to the Minister for Health in September 2019 titled ‘Achieving Victoria’s best end of life experience for people in Latrobe’, Advocate Jane Anderson backed Mr Northe’s push for a dedicated hospice facility and highlighted the impact it would have on the people of Gippsland.
“The calls (from Mr Northe) are consistent with what the community has been saying to me as having a need for a hospice facility in Latrobe,” Ms Anderson said.
“It is important for people to have place of choice if they are dying where they can go, but also a place where they can have respite from their situation to assess what is the next step for them.
“There isn’t a hospice east of Melbourne, so there is nothing that caters for the people of Gippsland for their need to have a place of choice so that means if they cannot die at home, they will end up in a hospital which may not be their preference.”
The Hazelwood House site precinct was taken over by the Latrobe City Council in 2019, with the council recently advertising an expression of interest process in regards to its future use.
Council outlined where that process currently stands.
“Latrobe City Council continues to work towards finding a new use for Hazelwood House, the former residential aged care centre at Churchill. The Expressions of Interest had innovative plans for the use of the site and buildings, making the most of the great Churchill community amenities,” the council statement said.
“Unfortunately the progression to the next phase of the process has been delayed due to recent storms and completion of structural engineering assessment and valuation. Once these are received, Council will seek to advance the final sale process.
“Council remains confident of not only selling the facility to acquire funds for Council to invest on the community’s behalf, but also ensuring the new use of the facility will benefit the community of Latrobe City and possibly broader Gippsland.”
The state government issued a response to Mr Northe’s calls confirming there are no plans to establish a hospice care facility at Hazelwood House.
“Supporting Victorians to be cared for, and die, in their place of choice is our priority and our palliative care providers and local health services have a strong history of working together to provide compassionate end of life care for local communities,” the state government spokesperson said in a statement.
“There are currently no plans for a hospice care facility to be established at Hazelwood House in Churchill.”