History of St John of God Ballarat - 1980s - The Rebuild

Although the hospital had some major damage due to the fire the board took advantage of the situation to fast-track the scheduled upgrade.

29 Jun 2018


Time to get to work

It soon became evident to the hospital’s management team that due to the forced evacuation of patients for two weeks an opportunity existed for major demolition of parts of the ward block to speed up the renovations.

Immediately after the fire, the removal of combustible timber from under the ground floor became so difficult that it was decided to abandon the ground floor completely, and cut out sections of the concrete floor to remove the material from above.

All departments on the ground floor moved into the John Jens Medical Services Block including:

  • Administration
  • Pay office
  • Nursing administration
  • Admissions
  • Accounts
  • Orthopaedics
  • Computer services

The five-stage three-year project was converted to one in two stages over two years.

Although this meant a reduction in bed capacity to approximately 120 during the construction period this was felt to be manageable as the hospital had operated during most of 1984 at around 62 to 65 per cent occupancy.

Plans approved

The revised plan was approved at the finance committee meeting on 18 October 1984 with stage one expected to be completed in October 1985 and stage two by September 1986.

Meanwhile a temporary maternity unit was established in the day care centre to reduce the pressure on maternity bed space at Ballarat Base Hospital.

A temporary 20-bed ward was also erected.

Rumours circulate 

During the second week after the fire, rumours of retrenchments began to circulate.

Due to the hospital’s uncertain future and the difficulty of communicating with all staff, a general meeting was held on 25 October and the hospital’s plans for recovery explained.

The value to the hospital of its long term loyal staff was stressed and morale was restored to its normally high level.

Some staff voluntarily took leave or leave without pay during the two weeks after the fire when the hospital was out of action.

Stress of renovations

Despite the unexpected opportunity of a two-year rebuilding program rather than five those two years were not without their challenges.

It was an intense and, at times, stressful period in the hospital’s history, managed adroitly by Sister Teresina Connolly (Superior 1984 to 91), Sister Assumption Neary (Deputy Director 1984 to 86), Leo Dwyer, Jim Pryor and Sister Patrice Scally (Director of Nursing 1982 to 85).

Director of Nursing Sister Patrice Scally noted that the constant concern of nurses for patients comfort, at the expense of great personal cost and frustration in their own working conditions, was a source of pride and admiration.

"Patients and staff put up with constant noise as wards and departments were first moved to temporary and then permanent new locations," she said.

With fewer beds available, the pressure on bed space during the winter of 1985 was particularly intense.

During 1985 the 19 charge nurses participated in the detailed planning of the new facilities.

At the end of that year, Leo Dwyer commended all staff for maintaining high standards during the building works which were achieved under most difficult conditions noting our rewards are beginning to appear as the new wards emerge from the ruins of the old. 

What’s next?

We’ll look at what areas of the hospital were renovated and see if they kept to their two year timeline.