"IT is our hospital." That's the message from Cohuna District Hospital's board of management to the district community.
"Our hospital is exactly that," board chair, Jean Sutherland said.
"The Cohuna District Hospital board has never considered any other option, and is a completely stand-alone hospital, with our own board, budget, strategic plan and now a service plan to attract funding for a new hospital, complete with birthing facilities," she said.
A statement released yesterday is the first from the board since the maternity issue became public last month.
The hospital's maternity services were placed on by-pass, then a public rally and withdrawal of general practitioner services was followed by reinstatement of maternity services, with a pledge to use relief obstetrics services if the town's lone GP obstetrician, Dr Peter Barker was unavailable.
Mrs Sutherland said that the board of Cohuna District Hospital was indebted to Echuca Regional Health over the last 18 months for allowing Cohuna District Hospital to purchase services such as payroll, education, pharmacy and other services to assist it to remain as a stand-alone hospital.
She said that Cohuna District Hospital chief executive officer, Michael Delahunty has worked tirelessly with the Department of Health and Human Services and other stakeholders to prepare a service plan, which is a preliminary step to obtain a new hospital.
We are waiting on the department to commit to a master plan where the architects start drafting up costings and plans," she said.
"The staff and doctors will be involved in this new design, as they have the knowledge and experience of what is required."
Mrs Sutherland said that the recent decision to have the maternity service on by-pass until it sourced additional back-up for the lone GP obstetrician, was made after six months of concerns and discussions.
"The board of Cohuna District Hospital has the responsibility for the safety and well-being of the community and we will continue to make decisions based on fact and not emotion," she said.
"Despite board members being intimidated and harassed, we will continue to work with our local community, the Department of Health with the financial support pledged by the Minister for Health, Jill Hennessey, on the difficulties facing rural communities in having sustainable health services in both the Cohuna and Kerang area.
"The fact is, many doctors do not want to provide obstetric services in rural areas where there is no support and back-up. The board is working to find a solution."
Mrs Sutherland said that the board was encouraging the community to support its service plan with a theatre and birthing unit.
"Our commitment to a new hospital will ensure we stand alone for many years to come," she said.
A petition signed by almost 2000 people demanding that the hospital and its current services be retained is due to be presented to State Parliament this week by the Nationals Leader, Peter Walsh, who is also the local Member for Murray Plains.