$8 million rehab centre


HEALTH planners want to build an $8 million state-of-the-art rehabilitation centre at Ballina within 12 months ? relocating services now provided at St Vincent's Hospital in Lismore.

North Coast Area Health Service (NCAHS) chief executive Chris Crawford said the NSW Department of Health was offering the money if the project could begin by July.

The NCAHS is working to get planning under way fast or lose unexpected one-off funding, offered because two Sydney health projects have slowed and cannot use the money.

Rehab patient Gordon Painter, of Kyogle, is one of the 350 in-patients treated annually at St Vincent's Hospital. He has daily physiotherapy and occupational therapy for a fall that broke his ribs and hip.

He said he was delighted by the help he had received at the centre, where he has learned to incorporate rehabilitation exercises into his daily life.

The other services offered by the centre ? which include day rehabilitation and outpatient physiotherapy ? generate 33,000 'occasions for service' annually.

The centre is staffed and paid for by the NCAHS, while it is owned by the Catholic Church.

While building the centre at Ballina would ultimately mean the closure of the St Vincent's centre, Lismore district patients would not be left in the lurch, Mr Crawford said.

A similar rehab centre is planned for Lismore Base Hospital as part of its proposed stage three $90million redevelopment.

While that was years off, Mr Crawford said an interim plan would be worked out to continue providing some services from St Vincent's until a new Lismore centre was also built.

One plan was to move the in-patient rehab service and the aged-care assessment team to Ballina, while keeping two community-based physiotherapists and the day rehab service at St Vincent's.

The investment in Ballina was essential because Ballina's aged population would grow faster than Lismore's, Mr Crawford said. The 'window of opportunity' to build the new Ballina rehab centre ? identified as a regional priority three years ago ? had only just opened.

"Now we are trying to see if we can pull the project together in the timeframe allocated to us," he said. "If we can't, we will have to wait another three years for the funding opportunity to come up again."

Mr Crawford said no jobs were threatened, with staff to be transferred to Ballina, or be absorbed into other areas.

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