EXTENSIONS to a local mental health facility were opened amid much fanfare late last year.
State politicians, including Goulburn MP Pru Goward converged on the city to trumpet the new $5 million Chisholm Ross Centre.
But four months on, 12 beds described as long overdue and meeting an “identified need” are still closed.
There are not enough nurses to safely staff them, the local branch of the NSW Nurses Association claims.
“And those beds won’t be opened until there are enough nurses to cover the extra workload,” the Association’s local mental health branch secretary Anna Wurth said.
The Southern NSW Local Health District acknowledges there are still 12 bed vacancies at the now 32-bed Chisholm Ross Centre.
But a spokesman told the Post patients had been moved into the new area while authorities were working to fill beds in the older section.
He said the vacancies were not due to nursing shortages but would not state the reason.
“Negotiations are taking place and we are working to fill them in a measured way,” the spokesman said.
He expected four of the 12 to be filled in mid April.
Despite the denial Mrs Wurth does not see a solution anytime soon, describing nurse recruitment as “slow and laborious.”
The union has mounted a campaign to extend a 1:4 nurse to patient ratio to rural hospitals, health facilities and specialist areas such as paediatrics and neonatal.
The state government agreed to the ratio two years ago, but mainly for metropolitan hospitals.
The Association will press its case at a campaign launch in Goulburn’s Belmore Park next Monday. Local members from the hospital and Community Mental Health joined hundreds of others in a rally outside State Parliament yesterday.
The campaign sends the message “the gloves are off,” Mrs Wurth says.
It is aiming for a 2.5 per cent pay rise for nurses, extension of the workload ratio, more clinical nurse educators and improvements to some hospitals.
The current Public Health System Nurses and Midwives (State) Award expires on June 30.
Mrs Wurth said while Chisholm Ross and acute mental health were subject to the 1:4 ratio, the hospital, Community Mental Health and Community Health were not granted the same status in the last round.
Even so, she told the Post that Chisholm Ross was still not achieving the mandated target.
Six graduate nurses started work two weeks ago, while 11 began at the hospital. Mrs Wurth said while this was welcome it still took time to train the staff and gain experience.
“We are also still struggling to achieve the ratios due to poor recruitment processes, which means an unreasonable workload,” she said.
“Nurses are stressed and overworked and the ratios are blowing out due to overtime.”
The union claims the Southern NSW Health District is taking up to three months to advertise a position, largely due to under staffing in its human resources department.
It argues that research shows patients have a far better outcome and fewer falls with more nurses available.
“If we’re safe, they’re safe,” Mrs Wurth said.
“Nursing is a huge job and it’s very physical. It’s also important that we give young nurses a positive experience. It’s also the reason we’re asking for more clinical nurse educators.
“These are the things we need that the government just doesn’t see.”
Other local unions are expected to join next Monday’s rural campaign launch in Belmore Park, which starts at noon. Association general secretary Brett Holmes and Mrs Wurth are among the speakers.
Yesterday, the Southern NSW Local Health District spokesman said nursing staff levels at all its hospitals complied with the requirements of the Public Health System Nurses’ and Midwives (State) Award 2011.
“The Health District has been successful in recruiting to vacant nursing positions. This has resulted in very low vacancy rates for nursing positions. (We are) especially pleased with its success in recruiting to graduate nursing positions,” he said.