AS the sun set over the escarpment today, so did a significant chapter in the northern Illawarra’s history, when the last patients were wheeled from the old Bulli District Hospital.
They were taken to the new $50 million Bulli Hospital and Aged Care Centre that has replaced the old institution on a site located on the opposite side of the road.
Almost 50 patients were transferred from the old hospital into the new facility, and The Bulli & Clifton Times was there to capture the historic day in pictures, when, after 127 years, a hospital built by coal miners closed its doors.
As patients were taken in wheelchairs and beds to be transported to the new facility, staff busily completed the finishing touches of months of planning and logistics. The Bulli Times was there today, and photographed staff, who – although were looking forward to transitioning into the state-of-the-art facility – expressed a feeling of sadness as they said their final goodbyes to a workplace that holds many memories.
The NSW Government has provided $37.1 million to the centre, including $14.5 million from the Restart Illawarra Infrastructure Fund using proceeds from the long-term lease of Port Kembla port.
Patients and clinical teams moved today into the new facility, which will open to the community from tomorrow (Wednesday August 12). Added precautions, including restricted visitor numbers, will be in place due to COVID-19 in line with other NSW Health facilities in the region.
Despite some concerns that the new hospital will not provide the same service to the community, Shoalhaven Illawarra Health say the new facility has been designed and specifically tailored to meet the needs of the region’s growing ageing population.
The centre, which sits opposite the old hospital will continue to provide inpatient, outpatient and community health services, as well as operate the Urgent Care Centre for minor injuries and illness. The Urgent Care Centre will continue to operate the same hours at the new site, between 7am and 10pm.
Northern Illawarra Hospital Group General Manager, Nicole Sheppard, said a planned community open day to showcase the new facility was not able to occur because of COVID restrictions, and an official opening would occur in the coming months.
“We want to let the community know our new facility will be open soon. We will formally acknowledge the move and those involved in this project when we are able to do so; hopefully in the not too distant future,” she said.
Ms Sheppard said Bulli Hospital has a long and proud history of providing medical care to the community, dating back to 1893 when it was known as Bulli Cottage Hospital.
“It was built in the wake of the tragic Bulli mine disaster and the initial building consisted of a five-bed male ward and two-bed female ward,” she said.
“In 1922, Bulli Cottage Hospital was renamed Bulli District Memorial Hospital.
“This is an important time for the community, our staff and patients and this allows us to continue to provide the very best care in brand new surroundings.”
While welcoming new facilities, community concern has been growing over the future of the original two hectare (almost five acre) hospital site, partly purchased from community funds, and partly donated by early land owners.
The NSW Government has been urged to preserve the rich heritage of the Bulli Hospital before a decision is made to sell-off the site.
A year after the 1887 Bulli Mine Disaster, a methane gas explosion that killed 81 men and boys, the community gathered for a meeting to push for public a hospital for the region.
The Bulli Cottage Hospital was officially opened on May 20, 1893, chiefly from funds raised by local coal miners, who sacrificed part of their wages. The hospital was built by the community through fundraising efforts. It consisted of a five-bed male ward and two-bed female ward. By 1908 an additional male ward and operating theatre were also opened.
State MP for Keira, Ryan Park has called for the facility’s rich heritage to be remembered, and asked the NSW Government to “hold-off” plans to sell the old site on Hospital Road.
“I am aware they have plans to sell off the site. The Government has advised me that the site may need contamination remediation work prior to the disposal of the site,” Mr Park told the Bulli & Clifton Times.
“I have urged the Government to hold off the sell off until an assessment is undertaken after the hospital has been operating. I am not convinced there is sufficient parking and the old site could easily be used for parking.”
Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District Executive Director Infrastructure Development Suzanne Harris said there are no formal heritage-listed items on the old Bulli Hospital site. However, parts of the old hospital clearly date back to early last century, and many architectural features are clearly evident from that era.
“The Local Health District has undertaken a heritage review of the existing Bulli Hospital precinct,” Ms Harris said.
A Wollongong City Council spokesperson said the hospital is not listed as a heritage item under the Wollongong Local Environmental Plan 2009 or any other statutory heritage list, and that the NSW Government (Department of Health) has specific legislative responsibilities for the identification and management of significant heritage assets under the NSW Heritage Act.
Mr Park meanwhile said he has not been made aware of any heritage items on the site.
“I would expect the Government to be open, transparent and sensitive to any historically sensitive items,” he said.
The Bulli & Clifton Times asked the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District what the intentions are for the old site. Ms Harris said ISLHD is continuing to work with the NSW Ministry of Health and Health Infrastructure, and will consult with Department of Planning, Infrastructure and Environment, on plans for the old Bulli Hospital site in line with NSW Government guidelines and procedures.
A Wollongong City Council spokesperson said Bulli Hospital is located on several lots of about two hectares or almost five acres of land, all zoned low-density residential, with a variety of permissible land uses.
“Council has not had any discussions with developers regarding the future use of the site,” the Council spokesperson said.
Mr Park said after concerns were raised over the future of the old site by his constituents he wrote to the Minister for Health and to the CEO of the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District.
Mr Park has requested that prior to selling off the land that sufficient parking be set aside for the new facility.
“I reminded the Government that Bulli Hospital was built by the local community and the proceeds should be reinvested back in the community that paid for it in the first place,” he said.
The community is advised that Bulli Hospital and Aged Care Centre will also have a new phone number, 4249 1300.
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