By Arthur B.W. Yong JP, Cr Frank Merlino and Maureen Corrigan OAM (2009)
In 2009, Arthur Yong got hold of a press release entitled “Huge Funding Boost for Northern Health Project”, which announced funding to go towards the Northern Health Academic and Research Precinct. The flowering of the Epping health precinct around the Northern Hospital was a reminder of how far we had come as a community in providing for the health needs of local people. After more than a decade it seemed a good time for Arthur Yong to write a short article of the history and developments of The Northern Hospital from the perspective of a local resident.
As a trained biochemist and health researcher, Arthur knows only too well that the proposed Academic and Research Precinct project will prove to be vital to the Melbourne’s growing northern suburbs. The University of Melbourne, La Trobe University, the Federal Government and State Government’s have together contributed millions of dollars to make this project happen. RMIT University will continue to work with researchers of Northern Health in a number of educational areas. The project will enhance employment, teaching facilities for medical, nursing and allied health professionals at The Northern Hospital and the surrounding suburbs.
The Northern Hospital in Epping is one of Melbourne’s major hospitals and opened in February 1998. To ensure that the community has the best possible access to healthcare services, The Northern Hospital works in conjunction with the other campuses of Northern Health to streamline patient care. These campuses are Bundoora Extended Care Centre, Panch Health Service, Broadmeadows Health Service and Craigieburn Health Service.
Arthur recalled a conversation with one former councillor many years ago. This councillor said, “The Northern Hospital will not be built in Epping. Local residents in Broadmeadows managed to raise lots of money to have a hospital built in the City of Hume.” Arthur was not convinced and replied, “You don’t know what you’re talking.”
In October 1976, Arthur Yong’s family moved to Lalor. Arthur went to the municipal office of Shire of Whittlesea in High Street Epping to pay his house rate. He chatted with the cashier. Arthur mentioned that he was a scientist and biochemist at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne. The cashier suggested that the local residents should advocate for a public hospital built in the Shire. So, the idea of getting a new public and teaching hospital built in the City of Whittlesea was stored in the computer chip of Arthur’s brains for some years. Arthur thought he should apply his organisational, volunteering, social marketing, community building capacity, development and engagement skills for this very important project.
In 1989, Arthur Yong was appointed by Caroline Hogg MP, Minister for Health to the Management of the Whittlesea District Council for two years. 1991, Arthur saw a plan of a hospital at the meeting of Whittlesea District Health Council. In July 1992, he attended a public meeting held at the Epping Memorial Hall to discuss the needs of the community and concerns regarding the phantom hospital. About 500 people were at the meeting. There was very strong bipartisan support from political parties. Arthur thought he could help to get this hospital built. So Arthur joined the Northern Hospital Steering Committee and subsequently became a member of the Northern Hospital Action Group (NHAG). The objectives of NHAG were: to expedite the construction of a 300 bed public hospital in Epping; to raise community awareness and support for the hospital; and to act as a lobby group for this project; and to ensure as far as practical; and that local people were given priority of employment in the building and staffing of the hospital.
Many Health Ministers, local parliamentarians, residents and community leaders of different cultural backgrounds, Lalor District Community Health Centre, Whittlesea Community Health Centre, Plenty Valley Community Health Services, community organisations and local service providers were very keen to see a hospital built in Epping. Some of the proactive people that Arthur Yong could recall were Dr. Ian Brand, Max McDonald, Andre Haermeyer, Peter Batchelor MP, Alex Andrianopoulos, Harry Jenkins MP, Fran Bailey MP, Peter Cleeland, Cr Frank Merlino, Maureen Corrigan, Mark Sullivan, Elaine Carbine, Phillip Bain, Syl McGrath, Robert Worn, Robert Trueman, Bruna Paoletti, Gracie Prochilo, Sam Spadafora, Cr John Fry, Cr Sam Alessi, Cr Geoff McIlvenna, Pam McLeod, Rex Griffin, Sucettin Unal, Anthony Haggar, Mick and Steve Dimos and Laurie Cox.
Northern Hospital Action Group
In 1993, Arthur Yong was elected as the Convenor and President of the Northern Hospital Action Group. Cr. Frank Merlino was elected as the Vice President. In January 1993, Fran Bailey, Mark Sullivan and Arthur Yong went to meet with two senior advisers to the Health Minister to present a strong case regarding the need for the proposed hospital in Epping. In March 1993, official statement was made by the Health Minister regarding the State Government’s $3 million purchase of an eight hectare site in Cooper Street for the proposed Northern Hospital. In October 1993, petition was circulated amongst residents of northern suburbs calling for the State Government to act on its promise to build a 300 bed public hospital in Epping. Within a short period, 4296 signatures were tabled at the Legislative Assembly on 23 November 1993. While there was slow development of the Northern Hospital project, a demonstration was organised in March 1994 at the proposed Northern Hospital site. Local residents and media attended.
In early 1995, it was reviewed that only 225 bed hospital would be built instead of the original plan of 300 bed hospital. The Health Department explained that it was because of technological changes, new surgical techniques and trend of the need for hospital beds was declining. However, it reserved 50 beds for the future development if required and 25 beds of the 225 beds were allocated to Mental Health Services. In 1995, Melbourne Hospital Statewide Networks were developed. Preston and Northcote Community Service Hospital and the proposed Northern Hospital at Epping became parts of the North Eastern Health Care Network. It included Austin and Repatriation Medical Centre, Bundoora Extended Care Centre, Fairfield Hospital, Mercy Hospital for Women and Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre. It was reported that in order to improve access to services and continuity of patient care, it was necessary to establish better links through a network of care. Patients and local general practitioners, tertiary services, ambulatory care centre, community acute care centre, extended care centre and psychiatric services were interlinked. The network was responsible for devolving services closer to where patients lived.
On the 25 July 1995, Mr. Harry Bryce, Director of the Northern Hospital Development and Mr. David Atkinson, Director of Atkinson Project Management gave information of the hospital project, such as the plan of the hospital construction, the services of the hospital. The public was given opportunity to raise questions. In 1995, Arthur Yong was elected as President of Lalor District Community Health Centre. Arthur was involved in the plan of the co-location of the community health centre on the site of the hospital. On 13 June 1996, the local community was given the pleasure to view the model and architectural plans of the Hospital. They were displayed at Epping Plaza for a number of weeks. On 13 April 1997, an estimated number of 15,000 people attended the Northern Hospital Fair on the vacant site next to Epping Plaza. Many people saw the display of the model and architectural plans of hospital at Epping Plaza and enjoyed a wide variety of entertainment of the Fair. In excess of 300 people went on a bus tour of the construction site of the Northern Hospital. They were told the latest information of the construction, the staffing and services of the hospital project.
Local residents strongly advocated urgent commencement of duplication of Cooper Street.
Many local residents celebrated the official opening of The Northern Hospital in February 1998, with very colourful cultural performances. Northern Health was established in July 2000. It initially included The Northern Hospital, Broadmeadows Health Service and Bundoora Extended Care Centre. Panch Health Service was opened in 2003 and Northern Health’s fifth campus, Craigieburn Health Service opened in 2007. The Northern Hospital underwent its Stage Redevelopment in 2001, which added two new operating theatres and a new 32 bed surgical inpatient unit. The Northern Hospital’s Stage 2A Redevelopment was completed in 2007 and included 64 new medical inpatient beds, an expansion to the Outpatients Department and a refurbishment of the Emergency Department Waiting Room and Triage Area. Throughout all these years, many local parliamentarians (Peter Batchelor MP, Lily D’Ambrosio MP, Danielle Green MP, Jenny Mikakos MP and Harry Jenkins MP) and local councillors strongly supported the different stages of developments of The Northern Hospital. Arthur Yong, Frank Merlino and many local residents are looking forward to see the completion of the new Academic and Research Precinct at the site of The Northern Hospital in Epping.