The long awaited palliative care unit has been opened at Mona Vale Hospital.

The 20-bed inpatient facility has two wings, a dedicated 10-bed palliative care unit and a 10-bed geriatric evaluation and management unit. It is understood the facility cost around $20m, which was funded from the $619m upgrade of Northern Beaches Health facilities.

Opening the new palliative care facility yesterday (Thursday, 04 February) NSW Health Minister and Member for Wakehurst Brad Hazzard became emotional, recalling his own experiences with palliative care for his mother.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard

“Personal stories are often difficult to convey, and I don’t intend to go into all of it but I do remember when my mum passed away in Manly Hospital. Peter Moore was like an angel… Yeah… It’s a very difficult time for everybody. A very difficult time, when your mum or your dad or close family are passing away.

“To have somebody who you know is there to hold your hand, and to hold not just the hand of the person who is in that stage of their life but also the rest of the friends of the family is amazing.

“Palliative care and everything that goes with it is so crucial for us as a community. In years gone by, people understood that probably better than today.

“To have this facility here on the beaches, but also the geriatric services that are part and parcel of this magnificent new facility, there’s ten beds for each of the services, quite amazing,” said Minister Hazzard.

Member for Pittwater Rob Stokes said the new facility was the realisation of a 30-year vision to have a hospice at Mona Vale Hospital.

Member for Pittwater Rob Stokes

“This journey started more than 30 years ago when a doctor, a specialist called John Doran had a vision together with a lady called Cora Adcock who also supported that vision of an inpatient hospice in those days, here on the grounds of Mona Vale Hospital.

“You only need to look at where it is to recognise that some of the most vulnerable people in our community, those who are in the midst of a terminal illness, are those who we need to take special care of.

“It’s funny that when we think about medical services we prepare for things that may or may not happen, but one thing that is inevitable is that all of us or our families may have recourse to requiring palliative care.

“It’s a holistic sense of care and it’s multi-disciplinary. It needs so many elements of people to be looked after. Not just their medical needs but emotional, spiritual and familial needs. It’s not just about the person with the terminal illness but it’s about their families as well.

Rob Stokes and Brad hazzard in a room of the new palliative care unit

“It’s an incredibly important medical discipline. That’s why it is so exciting to acknowledge the culmination of the journey that we’ve been on. As local members, [with Brad Hazzard and James Griffin] we’ve been on the journey with families who’ve faced that anguish, uncertainty and fear associated with supporting someone at the end of their life. Those services have not been available locally.

“In terms of inpatient services, people have had to travel to Greenwich or Neringah, have had to leave the beaches, and often these older people who have to rely on public transport, which to those sorts of locations is almost impossible, many of those families are separated from the people they need to be with most, at the time they are needed most. That’s why this unit is so important.

“The true mark of our society is not what we get for ourselves but what we give for others. For people who are particularly vulnerable, to put them at a site like this, in a facility like this, to capitalise on this incredible outlook in this incredible place is so special,” said Minister Stokes.

A room in the palliative care unit
Jo-Ann Steeves

Jo-Ann Steeves

President of The Friends of Northern Beaches Palliative Care Jo-Ann Steeves said Jim Longley was the local MP when the fight for a local palliative care service began.

“In the early 1990s, they said we could have a separate 12 bed palliative care unit here. Then there was a change of heart. It’s been 30 years we’ve been waiting for this. Dr John Doran who started it thought we were going to put a hospice up, but it never came. In the early 1990s, they said yes but then changed their minds when the future of Mona Vale Hospital was in doubt. It has taken all this time.

“The first time I walked in here, I said, ‘Let me come in slowly, I’ve been waiting for this for 30 years. I need to absorb it’. Our group has got $150k funding for some landscaping. We put the black fence up and extended the footpath, so an electric wheelchair could go up to the park or down to the beach. With the money that’s left, we’ll do some planting or other things,” said Ms Steeves.

James Griffin

James Griffin

Member for Manly James Griffin said the new palliative care unit would provide respite for patients and their carers.

“Everything from the fittings to the artwork has been selected in consultation with groups like Friends of Northern Beaches Palliative Care and Northern Beaches In-patient Palliative Care Working Group, so the unit can meet all the needs of those admitted,” said Mr Griffin.

The pictures adorning the walls of the building were selected as part of a competition from keen local photographers.

The geriatric evaluation and management unit will provide early assessment and treatment for people experiencing health conditions associated with aging, such as a tendency to fall, reduced mobility and cognitive impairment.

Palliative care unit staff

About 50 staff will work at the facility across the disciplines of medicine, nursing, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, social work, clinical psychology, neuro-psychology, podiatry, speech pathology, dietetics, pharmacy, administration and environmental services.

Images: Northern Beaches Advocate, Rob Stokes MP, Mona Vale Hospital