History of St John of God Ballarat Hospital - 1970s - The silver lining

Expansion plans started in the mid-1970s as more and more patients started coming to St John of God Ballarat Hospital.

14 Jun 2018

 Student Nurse

Increasing admissions 

By 1976 more space was essential to accommodate demand for the hospital’s services. Of the 218 beds, 195 were for general patients and the remaining 23 for midwifery.

  • Admissions for the year ending June 1976 tallied 7,275 including 473 midwifery patients while one-quarter of all admissions were orthopaedic patients.
  • Of the 15,000 X-rays done 12,500 were for outpatients.
  • The Pathology Department saw 11,000 patients in 1977 and was financially a huge asset.

A new and separate medical services block was the best way to cater for the hospital’s growing physical needs. Vasey Houghton, Minister for Health (1976–79), attended the opening of the Department of Nuclear Medicine in 1976. 

A letter to the Minister

Administrator Leo Dwyer wrote to him afterwards about the difficulties faced by the hospital’s increasing workload in operating theatres, radiology, pathology and food services, and flagged the need for a new building:

'It seems that the continuing preference for private hospital accommodation and medical consultation will continue into the foreseeable future. Our own experience has shown that the introduction of Medibank in its various forms has not had the effect predicted by some of causing a decline in our activity. In fact, since October 1 our figures have shown a significant increase in demand for our services, both inpatient and outpatient … expansion or even improvement to almost every [department] is impossible in its present location … [an obvious alternative] is to construct a new separate building, adjacent to the existing unit, capable of housing most of our support services … over the years the Sisters of St John of God, with admirable foresight, have purchased adjacent properties as they became available to allow for future development of the hospital. The one property, however, most suitable [for a new building] has regrettably not become available … currently occupied by the Mental Health Authority [it has] frontages to Webster Street and adjoins the hospital property. We are acutely interested to know whether or not this property could be acquired by the Sisters of St John of God for development of the hospital [as] the most efficient and economic use of resources available.'

Purchase of more land for expansion

Having earmarked use of the hospital at Novar in Webster Street, run by the Mental Health Authority, as critical for its future expansion, the hospital approached the Health Commission about buying it.

The commission’s architect looked at the matter carefully, and concluded that: ‘In view of the very significant role of St John of God in providing hospital services at Ballarat, the request [to purchase the site] should be carefully considered’ so that the new medical services block could be built and linked to the north of the ward block.

Robert Knowles, MLC for Ballarat Province, wrote to the Minister of Health in support of the hospital’s proposed acquisition of Novar, but it did not go ahead until the 1990s.

The $12 million medical services block was instead designed and built on land located to the west of the ward block, which involved the demolition and reconstruction of major service buildings, including the laundry and boiler house. Construction commenced at the beginning of 1979. Minister for Health and Deputy Premier Mr Bill Borthwick opened the John Jens Medical Services building on 16 October 1981.

What’s next?

During a major re-development of the hospital, devastation strikes.