IF the walls of the Wilson memorial Hospital in Murrurundi could talk they could tell the stories of generations of Murrurundi residents from the birth of new family members to the passing of loved ones.
The current building has stood firm for 100 years, but now its days are numbered as plans take shape for a new hospital building.
Susan Heyman, executive director of rural and regional services at Hunter New England Health said she has sympathy for the special place the building has held in the town’s history, but much has changed in the delivery of health care during the last 100 years and it was now time for a new building to meet those needs.
“I guess we have to remember it was purpose built 100 years ago, the rooms, the equipment, it was such a different environment that we provided health care in,” said Ms Heyman.
“The main problem with managing the current building is asbestos,” she said.
“The moment you do anything to a wall you’ve got the risk of exposure, so if you need to drill into a wall to put in more IT cabling in, anything that might disturb the surface means we have to evacuate staff from the area, if you are taking away parts of the wall you have to dispose of it properly,” she said.
“There are incidental things, because it is an old building you have cracks develop, particularly during a drought, if a trolley runs into it, there are a whole range of reason that could cause part of the wall to crack away,” she said.
“It’s fine at the moment, but if you want to maintain it for another 10 years that would be incredibly costly,” Susan Heyman said.
The building is owned by NSW Health and now needs major structural renovations which they estimate could cost millions, money they need to put into clinical services instead.
Leasing the current building to another group or business is also unviable, because the same structural work would need to be undertaken for any use.
“There are structural issues with the building and we’d be talking about millions to make the building structurally sound and the same reasons that we need a new facility, would be the same for other people,” said Ms Heyman.
“Whenever you are talking about an old building which is starting to disintegrate with the issue of asbestos and the public health issues of anyone being in it,” she said.
“Then there are the maintenance costs, it is a big building and just to heat the building, the electricity, the utilities all of those costs to maintain it, you’d be looking at over $100,000 a year, so I’m not sure if there are not-for-profit organisations or volunteer groups who could spend that kind of ongoing money on something when there is no return,” said Ms Heyman.
Ms Heyman said she was sympathetic to the importance of the history of the building and was open to how that could be honoured in the community.
“In Arimdale we worked with the local historical society and we used some of the old bricks in the new building and we also sold some of the old bricks to the people in the community, so people came and got bricks and have used them in their own homes, so it was a nice way to keep that community ownership, things like that we can do,” she said.
“The foundation stone is a beautiful feature and we’d like to preserve things like that and incorporate them into the new development and the plaque,” she said.
“The feedback from the community is they’d like us to keep the name of the hospital which we will do,” Susan Heyman said.
NSW Health also plan on commissioning a professional photographer to document the building.
Related story: Wilson Memorial to Remain Graded as a Hospital – July 15, 2019.