By ERWIN CHLANDA
A gripping inma – dance – by traditional healers – nangkaris – today opened the $25m new hospital emergency department in Alice Springs with a story that will unfold there many times in reality: Mothers bringing their sick children to a place where they can be made well again.
In slow, gentle motions the four Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara women from lands south of Alice Springs carried two effigies of babies through the door of the department which is five times bigger than the old one.
It had 42,000 patient contacts last year and this will grow to 45,000 – almost the population figure of the region it is serving.
Outside the two major speakers at the opening, NT Health Minister Robyn Lambley and Lingiari MHR Warren Snowdon, were careful to avoid talking about the reasons for the facility’s huge demand, including violence fuelled by alcohol.
Instead they praised the skill and resourcefulness of the staff.
Mr Snowdon asked these front line health workers attending the opening to come forward and stand with him during his speech: 36 did. Another 40 will be added to the department soon.
Inside Clinical Nurse Manager Jeanette Berthelson (pictured), who heads up the department, pointed out the most spectacular of the state-of-the-art equipment, a Transbay, a machine that can take Xray images in three adjoining resuscitation bays without moving patients out of them. “I’ve never actually worked in a department with one,” she says.
Work on the department started in 2011. Funding came from the NT ($11.3m) and the Commonwealth ($13.6m), and it has 43 patient spaces. The cost of operating the department is budgeted at $5.5m in 2013-14.
Ms Lambley said 70 per cent of the construction and fit-out work was done “by local workers, including Indigenous employees”.
UPDATE JUNE 13
Meanwhile Ms Lambley has announced that Central Australia’s capacity to deal with an emergency or disaster will be substantially increased through the appointment of an Alice Springs-based co-ordinator position with the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre.
The Northern Territory and Commonwealth governments will jointly fund the new position, to be advertised nationally in coming weeks.
The NCCTRC was established following the 2002 Bali bombings to ensure the Territory has a rapid response capability to deal with mass casualty incidents.
Ms Lambley said the co-ordinator will promote best practice emergency and disaster management in Central Australia – with a focus on Alice Springs Hospital.
“It will extend the great work already done by the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre in northern Australia and the Asia-Pacific Region,” she said.