It’s a town of just over 1000 people that few have heard of and even fewer have visited, but it only takes five minutes in the office of Edenhope Hospital’s CEO to be convinced that healthcare in this small Wimmera town is as good as any member of the public can get.
“Every country area has challenges to recruit doctors and skilled nursing staff, but at Edenhope, we have worked really hard to create a culture that people want to stay for,” Andrew Saunders says.
“I want our hospital to be a place where kindness is normal, not an exception.”
Minutes later, as a random dog looms in the doorway, Andrew pauses the interview briefly to ensure that the owner can be located and is genuinely delighted to see the canine patient is being kept well hydrated with a takeaway container of water near his office door in the meantime.
“We like to make sure everybody who comes through the door is well looked after,” he says with a chuckle.
Edenhope has secured $8 million in funding to redevelop its high care aged care beds, and is able to offer 24/7 access to GPs, as well as 18 beds for acute care.
Close collaboration with health services in Horsham and the advent of telehealth services has made a tremendous difference to health care in the town, he said.
“We are doing a lot to build up telemedicine and telehealth. It’s a four-hour drive to Melbourne from here, meaning that it used to take two days out of your week to go and see a specialist, but now, our patients can have many of the consultations from their own home with teleconferences over the internet.
“Often when you roll out initiatives you can’t be sure of the impact, but I have had a lot of people come and say ‘I saw the best specialist in Melbourne and didn’t have to even wait in a waiting room – I just talked to them from my kitchen.’”
“Horsham has a cancer centre and we have really focused on bringing services out here so that people don’t have to travel.
“Because we are a smaller hospital, we can also provide much more personalised service. You will know the nurses who are looking after you."
“It seems to have helped with the turnaround of Edenhope. There are a lot of young families moving back to town and I think people are seeing small rural centres as a lifestyle choice worth making.”
Andrew came to Edenhope & District Memorial Hospital in 1990 to work as the chef, intending to only stay for six months, but 29 years later, his astute organisational capability and commitment to quality healthcare provision in his community has seen him rise to the role of CEO.
“When we moved here, we had two small children, but because the town was relatively small and the hospital was strong, there were opportunities to grow and advance,” Andrew says.
“We have a few acres on the edge of town, there is no travel time to get to work and we love being involved in such a caring community. We won’t be moving away from Edenhope.”