Pictured are the main players (from left) Sandra Clyne, Mary Miles, Robyn Lambley and current Health Minister Natasha Fyles.
By ERWIN CHLANDA
It all started 24 years ago with a plea from Di Byrnes, prominent tourism figure at Ayers Rock and Glen Helen, mayoral aspirant and a take-no-prisoners local identity.
She was dying from cancer in Port Macquarie, thousands of kilometres from The Centre which she loved, but which had no dedicated palliative care facility.
Surrounded by friends and her sister, Ms Byrnes told them: “You have to get one.”
This week her dying wish became reality, after ceaseless “humbugging” by three of her friends, Sandra Clyne and Mary Miles, and later Lesley Reilly, as Senator Nigel Scullion admiringly described it.
It is a free-standing 10 bed facility in the hospital grounds, built at a cost of $6.3m, including $1m from the NT Government.
It was a great example of “the people” getting their way, against political and bureaucratic obstinance.
A community based palliative service, the Palliative Care NT, Central Australian branch, was formed soon after the death of Ms Byrnes, but patients were accommodated in two beds of the medical ward.
The campaign by the trio ran into opposition from the CLP governments when a Federal grant of $5.3m became available. Health Minister at the time, Robyn Lambley, was sympathetic to the idea but her successor, John Elferink, was not, says Ms Clyne.
He preferred a multi-purpose facility, and the building that was opened on Thursday was designed for that use.
It is understood that plan had the support of the hospital board, as well as of the now disbanded Central Australian Hospital Network Governing Council, the latter chaired by Alice Mayor Damien Ryan.
That did not deter him from turning up for the media photo calls, both for the announcement of the facility in December 2016, nor last Thursday.
Thanks to the trio’s persistence, and because the construction plans had already been finalised, Alice Springs now has 10 palliative care beds compared for 12 in Darwin, a town four times as big.
Ms Clyne says the supporters stuck to their guns despite some political point scoring over the issue, with Mr Elferink targeting Ms Lambley who continued her support when she became the Independent Member for Araluen.
Mr Clyne says their day came during the 2016 election campaign. She received a verbal pledge from Shadow Health Minister Lynne Walker and insisted on a written plea which Ms Clyne got before polling day.
The rest is history.
The facility will provide dedicated inpatient end-of-life care, but also “includes the option of respite care to support families who wish to continue to care for their loved ones at home,” says Senator Scullion.
“This is the first dedicated palliative care facility in the region and it includes private garden spaces and a bush medicine garden with rooms opening up to a patio area.”
The facility has the capacity to accommodate a support person overnight.
Health Minister Natasha Fyles says the centre’s staff includes an eight member community service team and 11 new nursing positions.
It has been named ampere amantye-akeme, the Central Arrernte word meaning Comfort House.