Sunday, June 23, 2024

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HomeIssue 8Bush health centre in chaos

Bush health centre in chaos


Often violent protracted strife surrounding the Ampilatwatja Health Centre 320 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs has climaxed with the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations appointing special administrators yesterday.

Selwyn Button says the health service is “currently compromised. Significantly, the dispute has caused a delay in the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine to the community.

“It has also prompted the corporation’s major funding body to withhold the latest release of primary health care funding.”

Operating since 1995 the Aboriginal-controlled organisation in 2019–20 received $2m for comprehensive primary health care.

“With that it served around 900 clients in 6400 episodes of care,” says Mr Button.

“The corporation has sought assistance from my office to manage a dispute between senior managers and various board members.”

A person in the community, who does not wish to be named, says in a 2200 word statement to media that the conflicts have “been an ongoing problem spanning over a space of approximately five-plus years when [an] individual was last asked to leave the community and their role.

“The community is being intimidated and bullied by a group of individuals in power who we thought had the communities’ best interests at heart,” says the informant who does not name the people referred to.

They have “failed to provide the community with preventative health programs, has failed in a duty of care by ignoring a myriad of patient health and safety concerns, has created a toxic working environment and has now closed the clinic and is failing to provide health care to the community”.

It deserves to be “living free from fear and intimidation” and have “access to high quality and holistic health services”.

The statement says: “The nurses were taken out to the bush [where they were shown] a stack of papers an inch thick detailing complaint and concerns they had had from other health practitioners including doctors, nurses, allied health professionals who had worked at the centre over the last five years.

“Later that evening one of the individuals in uniform and arriving in the ambulance came down to the nurses’ houses and aggressively and repeatedly kicked and punched the front door and then moved to the back door, kicking, and screaming calling them f****** c****.

“The nurses called the police as they feared for their safety. The nurses at the time immediately had their email access, access to the clinic, and vehicles revoked.”

This was followed by more police intervention and threats of locking up the clinic: “The police have been in the community almost every day.

“The police had to restrain [a person] and put him back inside the clinic gates. And they told the community to go back to their homes because they were worried about a riot happening.

“The two nurses went to work the next day but they haven’t opened the clinic, the clinic has now not been open for close to a month.”

The Alice Springs News this morning spoke by phone to a person at the clinic. We said we were publishing a report and wished to offer the right of reply. The person said this was not a convenient time but someone would get back to us later.

PHOTOS from the health centre’s website.


  1. What a complete piece of fake news and bullshit of lies and innuendos.
    Firstly its David Smith the CEO that has built an amazing health centre over the last few years.
    Two million dollars was for the new clinic building.
    The population is 300 so where did the other 600 suddenly come from?
    The so-called nurses where sacked by the corporation and refused to return the residences keys. Sacked employees usually don’t get continued access to clinics vehicles or emails when they had been sacked.
    Police “put someone back inside the clinic gates” – funny there is no police record of this except for the eviction orders of the sacked nurses.
    Selwyn Button seems to want attention by wild statements. Covid rollout has nothing to do with the clinic. It is a Federal matter.
    You can’t give jabs when there is no vaccines available like 90% of all the other clinics.
    The clinic has never closed and is staffed by nurses Monday to Friday and on call out of hours at all other times.
    The patient transfers out for hospital treatment never changed, wonder if all the patients who where flown out or transported by ambulance organised by the current nursing stuff know that this didn’t happen because they where closed.
    Perhaps the newspaper should look into why they where sacked and evicted as the complaints from the community where about them. It’s all about greedy little mongers wanting to get their hands on a exceptionally run community health centre and its wealth that has been built by David Smith’s hard work over the years.
    Selwyn Button should not only get his facts straight but also stop grandstanding with false statements. I visited the community two weeks ago and the clinic was open as usual.
    Has he ever been there? I think not. Certainly he is not known there, may be two busy sitting in an office of fantasy.

  2. @ Peter Nichols: Note the final paragraph of yesterday’s report. As diligent journalism requires we sought comment and offered right of reply yesterday morning. We still have not had any response from the health centre.
    Erwin Chlanda, Editor.

  3. Yes, David Smith, the CEO, built and ran a good health centre.
    Unfortunately, that does not guarantee “community” support as defined under CATSI.
    With membership of the corporation concentrated so heavily in a few families there was always potential for the blow-up we are seeing now.
    David Smith failed to keep them all happy, perhaps it became impossible?
    A majority of directors signed the letter to ORIC that triggered their intervention.
    Ultimately, the non Aboriginal staff will leave and harmony will be restored.
    Until the cycle starts all over again, of course.

  4. The crux of this matter, as I read it, is that the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations, Mr Button, being the appointed Registrar, has appointed special administrators for the Ampilatwatja Health Centre.
    Then I read the comment that after disputed allegations “Peter Nichols” visited the community two weeks ago. Might be helpful if Peter could tell readers of the nature of his visit to the community if he is not a current resident!
    Whatever has caused the registrar to appoint special administrators is one thing but, what appears uncertain is, are the people who live at this community being afforded a health service at the moment or not?
    The squabble may continue but, children, women and men out there will require medical attention and the COVID jab, the same as everyone else. Having this addressed appears a far more important matter than Selwyn and Peter’s differences.
    Thanks also for the article Erwin. Hope you get a response.

  5. Hahaha excuse me Peter. You may have visited the community two weeks ago and the clinic was open (I find that hard to believe regardless), but you weren’t there for the past couple months.
    I can say with certainty NONE of this is fake news. The clinic has been closed. The community was refused treatment. If an Indigenous community doesn’t want two out of a handful of staff in their community, and the remainder of the staff were sacked by those said two people, it tells a big picture.
    Yes it’s a Federal issue, and I’m glad. This community deserves non-Indigenous and Indigenous healthcare employees to respect their wishes and treat them with the respect they deserve. Additionally, so do the staff.
    There’s a lot more to this picture than MANY are aware, I know this first hand.
    So walk on Peter, you’re being part of the problem, not the solution.

  6. It’s nice of Peter Nichols to David Smith but everything stated in his comment sounds like Peter is David’s defence lawyer.
    No mention of the solution to almost every medical problem is Panadol and cold water. No mention of the lack of support by the clinic for mental illness, no mention of the death of a lady that brought all of this to a head.
    I know for a fact that the vast majority of the community’s population want the problem solved and the problem is the person charged with competently running the clinic.
    If everything was going well then the people would not have a problem with the management of the clinic.

  7. Here here collateral damage.
    I could not have put this better myself.
    The community came together to have him and someone else removed, if you’re respecting the community and respecting yourself, would you return knowing the COMMUNITY DOES NOT WANT YOU THERE?
    Any sane person would not have returned!
    People are using their position of power to manipulate and blackmail this community, and personally, I don’t think they could gain a position of power anywhere else unless he could manipulate and blackmail like they have been doing.
    It’s essential this has a thorough investigation.
    I’m looking forward to seeing justice for Ampilatwatja!

  8. Peter Nichols should either declare his interest in the clinic saga or shut up.
    People resident in Ampilatwatja (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) have been subject to sub standard health management over an extended period of time, despite the best efforts of front line nursing and local health staff.
    Community wants clinic CEO and manager gone. Why won’t they do the right thing?

  9. Good on the community for taking a stand! Take back the power! Hopefully we see some justice ASAP!

  10. I have one simple question: Where has the respect gone?
    The CEO can have his friends write all the accolades in the world but it all becomes quite irrelevant in light of today’s situation.
    Certainly I am more than willing to give full credit to his commitment to establishing the clinic.
    He had a vision and a belief that this community should have equal access to healthcare as is afforded to those in metropolitan areas.
    [But] over the past several weeks we have been witness to a CEO who has a complete disregard for the community, rather he seems more focussed on self-gratification and empire building.
    The loyalty that the CEO once had to this community now only extends so far as to include the clinic manager and the board chairman.
    Certainly there has been no respect shown to the clinic board whatsoever. The board responded to growing concerns in the community in regards to the clinic manager and the risk posed to patient safety.
    The board moved to enact change and provided the CEO with a list of directives that he was required to complete.
    The CEO made a conscious choice to disrespect the board and instead accused the board of being underhanded.
    The board were guided by ORIC and all meetings and subsequent documentation produced by the board has been confirmed as being legal and just.
    The CEO and his offsiders should be reminded that the clinic is in fact a community controlled organisation and not a dictatorship.

  11. Apart from mismanagement, there was nepotism, excess interstate travel and bullying.
    Family members of senior management were employed at the clinic or as admin staff working remote from interstate(!)
    Clinicians who choose to work in remote locations deserve the respect of management (CEO), safe working conditions, and support to carry out their roles.


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