Tears and smiles as new dialysis unit opens in Nambucca Valley: PHOTOS

TODAY was a day many local residents thought they would never see – and sadly, a few didn’t – with the official opening of a dialysis service unit in the Nambucca Valley.

More than 100 people, including mayor Rhonda Hoban, Oxley MP Melinda Pavey and health service representatives, were on hand for an at times emotional ceremony to celebrate the new building.

The centre, the dialysis chairs and medical staff have come about after a significant investment by the local health service and through a long-running grassroots community fundraising campaign.

Located at the Nambucca Healthcare Centre, the service is the culmination of a 20-year lobbying campaign that was driven by a frustration that local people requiring dialysis had to travel to Coffs Harbour and sometimes further afield, for treatment.

At the forefront of the campaign has been Rona Freeman, who gave a short and heartfelt speech at the opening as did a current patient, Eric Day.

“It’s been a long hard road with many hoops and hurdles and there were a lot of knockers over the years,” said Rona, who’s son Paul was forced to travel for dialysis before his passing.

Dr Mark Smith from Nambucca Healthcare Centre recalled that Paul had told his mum “I don’t want to do this anymore”, and that had sparked her drive to see a service established locally so that renal patients would one day not have to travel for treatment.

“Rona made a promise to her son and she kept it,” Dr Smith said.

While the campaign had been long and in danger of flagging, it ‘grew legs’ at a public meeting in Nambucca in September 2011.

Key stakeholders steadily came onboard, the fundraising ante was upped, and the political will to deliver a local dialysis service became irresistible.

“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog,” Rona said, only half-jokingly.

Today’s ceremony marked the official opening for Nambucca Healthcare Centre’s Stage II building, which was constructed in 2014 and began operation in January.

The Nambucca Valley Dialysis Unit was brought to fruition through funding via the Nambucca Valley Dialysis Fund, and a partnership hosting arrangement between Nambucca Healthcare Centre and the Mid North Coast Local Health District, which was represented by chief executive Stewart Dowrick.

The unit began as a three-chair pilot program in May last year in the existing Stage I NHC building while a purpose built facility was constructed (Stage II). The unit was moved across to the new completed facility in December and increased to six patients in January this year.

“We are now looking forward to increasing to operation six days a week in order to provide local treatment for six more patients who currently travel out of the local area to Coffs Harbour, said NHC’s Sheree Smith. 

Just last month, radiology practice Active Medical Imaging also began operation from the Stage II building to provide comprehensive quality medical imaging services in the Nambucca Valley.

The range of services available includes fully digital x-ray, high resolution ultrasound and low dose technology CT, utilising leading edge equipment to provide significant reductions in radiation dose. The partnership arrangement includes collaboration with some of the State’s top university teaching radiologists in partnership with local medical service providers.

“It’s been a credit to everyone here today that we have come so far,” Sheree said.