History of St John of God Ballarat – 1960s – Expanding of hospital departments

The Orthopaedic department was an important and well known department in the hospital however, the establishment of departments of Pathology and Radiology were just as vital to both the community, and the growth of the hospital.

3 May 2018

Radiology_DepartmentSr Rosalie Rowley in the Radiology Department, late 1960s

The growth of Pathology

Pathology also became one of the hospital’s leading services. Sister Helen Birt had established a pathology laboratory soon after she came to Ballarat in 1956. Since 1939 she had worked as a nurse in St John of God hospitals at Goulburn, Bunbury and Subiaco, and at the latter became an experienced technologist.

In one room and a small annexe on the hospital’s ground floor, Sister Helen commenced a basic pathology service. In 1968 she and Dr Stan Pilbeam established a pathology service that served both Ballarat Base Hospital and St John of God Ballarat Hospital. Until 1971 when she moved to Ireland, ‘Sister Helen and Stan formed a close professional and personal bond and his assistance to the Sisters and their hospital in Ballarat resulted in the development of a first class cooperative pathology service for the doctors and their patients in the greater Ballarat [region].

During the same period he encouraged and fostered the establishment of small regional hospital laboratories in country Victoria, aware that without in-house diagnostic services their long term survival was in doubt, resulting in a medically disadvantaged rural community’. Sister Eugenia Brennan replaced Sister Helen as pathology technologist from 1970 until 1976. Dr Stan Pilbeam was Senior Pathologist (1990–2000), succeeded by his son Dr Mark Pilbeam.

The establishment of Radiology

X-rays had been conducted at the hospital since 1930. Sister Theodore Ryan was the first Chief Radiographer (1954–60), followed by Sister Rosalie Rowley (1961–90). The department functioned in two rooms, with two X-ray machines. In 1981, with four Sisters trained in radiography and three lay radiographers, the growing department trained six technicians. There were three French X-ray machines to provide for patient numbers that sometimes exceeded 100 per day.

Hospital admissions continued to grow

From 1963, more than 6,000 patients were admitted annually during the remainder of the 1960s, with a huge spike of 8,211 in 1967. At the hospital’s golden jubilee in 1965, Dr Greening recounted its “difficulties in the early years, and its astonishing progress in recent times”, and declared that “everyone in the city was grateful now for the fifty years of dedicated service the nuns had given Ballarat”.

What’s Next?

We look at the troubles faced by the hospital in the early 70s.