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Churches working together for Townsville communities

UnitingCare has announced the proposed sale of Townsville’s Wesley Hospital, to the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, which is owned and operated by the Townsville Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy.

The Council of Synod and the UnitingCare Board recently approved the sale which is subject to formal approval by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), was.

Uniting HealthCare has operated the hospital since it was purchased by the Uniting Church in 1999.

The Mater has confirmed that they propose to convert the Wesley Townsville site into Australia’s only regional women’s and children’s hospital.

Queensland’s Uniting Church Moderator, Dr David Pitman said he supports the Wesley Hospital being sold to another not-for-profit organisation which shares similar Christian values, mission and beliefs.

“While the sale is inevitably accompanied by sadness, we realize that it represents a positive step forward in terms of health care in Townsville” he said.

“Any pastoral issues raised by the sale of a Uniting Church hospital to a Catholic Church-based organization would be overcome by the practical need to do what was best for the community.”

Dr Pitman said both Churches are committed to the principle of ecumenism, and both the Uniting Church and the Catholic Church at a national level have agreed to develop clear and sensitive guidelines to deal with how our churches together can best meet the needs of the local people, and that this approach has underpinned the thinking about the sale as the hospital changes hands.

“Ultimately this should not be seen as the Uniting Church pulling out of the hospital, but a recognition of the effectiveness of the witness of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church as expressed through the mission and ministry of the Mater Misericordiae Hospital Townsville.”

UnitingCare’s Director Ms Anne Cross said that discussions between the Mater and Uniting HealthCare, have also confirmed that all Wesley Townsville staff will be transferred to the Mater.

“Both parties understand and agree that the experience and skills of our current staff members are critical in ensuring that the health needs of the local people are met,” she said.

Ms Cross said that it had become more challenging, each year to maintain a hospital in Townsville.

“Over the last four years, the Mater Townsville has invested heavily in their facilities and significantly expanded their service profile. They now offer the broadest range of clinical services of any regional private hospital in Australia. The long-term sustainability of the Wesley Townsville has therefore been increasingly under pressure.”

Ms Cross said a major benefit for the people of North Queensland is that the merger will reduce costly duplication of services and competition for highly-skilled staff, such as medical specialists, who are in short supply particularly in regional areas.

“We had to think long and hard about the long-term sustainability of operating a private hospital in Townsville when the Mater offers a comprehensive service in the same city”

As part of the statement made today at the Wesley Hospital, Ms Cross emphasised the sale of the hospital in no way marked a trend for UnitingCare to focus its service delivery away from regional areas. “In fact, it is quite the opposite,” she said.

“UnitingCare’s mandate is to reach out to the whole community especially those most in need, wherever they are. UnitingCare has an ongoing commitment to the North Queensland region through UnitingCare’s other service providers, Blue Care and Lifeline Community Care.

“Blue Care provides community nursing and other home-based and respite services to more than 1300 people each year in the Townsville area.

“Blue Care also has residential aged care facilities, here in Townsville and will significantly improve its residential aged care accommodation over the next couple of years.

“Additionally, Lifeline provides a vital telephone counselling service, answering more than 8 000 calls each year, as well as providing youth, family, disability and other services to more than 12 000 people in the from the Townsville region.

“Selling the Wesley Hospital is an isolated decision based on a practical need to do what is best for the community,” she said.

The UnitingCare Board remains strongly committed to the ongoing provision of high quality private hospital services, demonstrated by the development of St Stephens Hospital Hervey Bay, the expansion of the Sunshine Coast Private Hospital, the redevelopment and expansion of St Andrews War Memorial Hospital and the redevelopment and expansion of The Wesley Hospital, Brisbane.

An announcement by the ACCC is expected by end February.