Public forum on Colac hospital crisis

HUNDREDS of worried residents are expected to turn out at a public forum tonight over the closure of overnight urgent care at the Colac hospital. 

Colac Area Health (CAH) board members, political opponents, councillors and emergency services will be among the audience as the public seek answers over why the town will be without an emergency department overnight.

The meeting comes after CAH also announced that it would close six beds to cover a $1-million-dollar deficit. 

CAH chief executive Geoff Iles will face members of the public who are likely to ask why another alternative was not chosen. 

The unit will close from 10pm until 7am under changes to kick in on February 1, leaving just one ambulance on duty to take patients to Geelong. 

The information session has also pulled in a swag of politicians, eager to point the fingers. 

State member for Polwarth Terry Mulder and federal member for Corangamite Darren Cheeseman will be there. Liberal candidate Sarah Henderson and Greens Senator Richard Di Natale are also believed to be attending. 

Colac Otway Shire mayor Lyn Russell, who will chair the forum, said she hoped a political bun fight could be avoided. 

“From the feedback I’m getting, the public are sick of the blame game and they want some answers,” Cr Russell said. 

“They’re hoping to hear if there are any alternative options or if there are any long-term solutions over the hospital debt.”

Cr Russell said last week’s announcement of the closure of six beds had come as another blow to the community still reeling from the urgent care cutbacks. 

“It’s made people more anxious than they already were.”

Over the past week, the mayor said she had been inundated with emails and phone calls and had been stopped in the street by worried residents. 

Tonight’s forum has been organised by CAH and Colac mother Laura Cook, whose Facebook page calling on the unit to stay open around the clock is nearing a thousand likes. 

“People are outraged that this decision has been made,” Ms Cook said. 

“People are going to ask questions about their own experiences — like what am I going to do if my mother who has diabetes goes into shock?”

Ms Cook — who has two children under the age of three said she was concerned over where she could take her children overnight if something went wrong. 

The decision to cut the unit hours overnight came after the Commonwealth pulled $255,000 from the service as part of the $107 million Victorian health cuts. The Victorian government has called for the funds to be reinstated. 

Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek will discuss the cuts with Victorian Health Minister David Davis at a meeting in Melbourne later this week. 

Tonight’s forum will be held at the Colac Otway Performing Arts & Cultural Centre from 7pm. 

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