ON A very cold and wet July night, more than 80 people filled the Grantville Hall to find a way to retain a nurse practitioner service for the Waterline and Hinterland communities (Bass, Grantville, Coronet Bay Corinella, Tenby Point, Pioneer Bay, Kernot, and Woolamai).
Since then, due to the concerted efforts of community volunteers and state and federal funding, Grantville has gained a bank, an ambulance and a nurse practitioner.
Bass Coast Community Health set up the nurse practitioner service at the Grantville Transaction Centre in 2012, having secured funding for a pilot program from the Department of Health and Ageing.
Once the nurse practitioner service was established, setting up a pharmacy seemed like a good business proposition. Once the pharmacy proved to be a viable business, Grantville also got a medical practice.
Unfortunately, when funding for the pilot nurse practitioner program ended at the end of June, Bass Coast Community Health announced the service would close.
Once the funding ceased, the nurse practitioner, Deb Garvey, indicated that she would like to continue the practice in the transaction centre but could only do so with rent assistance from Bass Coast Council.
The councillors had not been briefed on this issue so at the June meeting, in an “in camera” session, they voted against reducing the rent on the basis that it would now be run as a private business, not just as a community service. This meant the service could not continue as the practitioner had lost half of her patients who thought the service had already closed.
The community became involved at this point. A petition was quickly circulated and the public meeting held to garner community feedback and support. Those at the meeting formed the Waterline Nurse Practitioner Action Group (WNPAG).
“There was such strong community support for the nurse practitioner that the community determined to do everything they could to keep the service going,” said WNPAG president and Kernot resident Barry Stewart.
Donations and pledges from individuals and community associations quickly started to roll in and have been used to pay the $200 a week rent to the transaction centre over the past few weeks to enable the service to continue.
After councillors refused the request for rental assistance, Deb Garvey asked for a second hearing. The matter was listed for the July council meeting but the community asked for it to be deferred until August so they could prepare a position paper and discuss the matter with councillors.
Pioneer Bay resident Talina Birket, a young mother and secretary of WNPAG, is passionate about the nurse practitioner and the services she provides.
“It's great to have a female practitioner to visit, particularly regarding women's health issues,” she said. “Deb bulk bills everyone and it’s good to have a choice of health providers.”
WNPAG has also approached the local federal MP, Greg Hunt. Mr Stewart said he was supportive and is looking at funding opportunities and ways to help residents retain the service.
A nurse practitioner receives significantly lower Medicare reimbursement than a doctor as she has limited access to Medicare Item numbers. The service would need to secure funding and/or form partnerships with other medical programs to become financially viable.
Coronet Bay resident and committee member Joy Button said Ms Garvey just needs a reduced rent until she can explore these options.
The position paper prepared by the committee points out that Postcode 3984 is the second most socially and economically disadvantaged in Victoria and many residents do not qualify for bulk billing at the medical practice in Grantville.
The nurse practitioner provides bulk billing to everyone, without exception, and a choice of medical service for the community.
Residents understand it is not the fault of Bass Coast Council that funding for the service ended, but councillors are there to support their communities if and where they can.
The position paper states that the council has assisted the Phillip Island community by buying land for a medical centre in Cowes so providing rental assistance a community nurse practitioner would be consistent with its public health policy.
The WNPAG committee believes the nurse practitioner service and the existing medical practitioner clinic in Grantville can provide complimentary services to cater for the medical and health needs of the Waterline and Hinterland communities.
August 20, 2014
I am a full-time carer for my wife as she suffered a stroke. Transport is quite difficult for us and the trip to Wonthaggi can be difficult at times, plus the cost to see the doctor and the out-of-pocket expense is very restrictive. My wife receives a disability pension and I the carer pension. My wife needs to see the nurse quite often to maintain her health as she is also epileptic and needs regular blood tests. The nurse has been a godsend for our family and our three children. This nurse provides a wonderful service to the community. I for one will fight to keep this service where it belongs, well within reach of the people of the Bass Coast.
Rodney Jones, Corinella