Epworth Geelong: The massive, solitary seven-storey structure rising from a paddock at the edge of town presents a powerful silhouette at night. Interspersed by bright, retina-tingling lights that have beamed out from a mass of cranes, metal, glass and sandstone during the past two years’ construction, the impact is striking.
It’s a little other-worldly.
Looking out from its rooftop, across suburbia to the northeast, the sea to the south and great swathes of green into the western distance, it seems the spanking new Epworth hospital at Waurn Ponds is emblematic of the future.
The quarter-billion-dollar hospital, with its first stage due to open in July, stands apart – not just physically or geographically but from health, education and innovation perspectives. It’s been a long time coming, but Epworth Geelong could be about to change the entire status of Geelong as a regional city.
Infrastructure, as bureaucrats love to remind us, is critical to any city’s economic and social prospects. In Geelong’s case, road, rail, university, industrial, CBD, public service and other upgrades of recent years have been driving its transition from a heavy manufacturing city to a more diversified research, education, health and services-driven economy.
The gleaming behemoth emerging from the 10-hectare Pigdons Road field, just a stone’s throw from Deakin University, stands to be a game-changer.
For one thing, it brings a huge health resource that broadens the region’s attractiveness to new residents and business investors keen to lure quality employees to the region. But its education aspect, with Deakin’s medical school, brings a new level of top-end teaching which, coupled with cutting-edge research across numerous fronts, enhances Geelong’s growing reputation as a smart city.
First and foremost, though, Epworth Geelong will be a state-of-the-art, working hospital with medical, surgical, maternity and rehab beds – 172 in the first stage, rising to 262 all up. This includes 12 intensive-care beds and eight special-care nursery cots, six birthing suites and eight complex-care units.
It will have 11 operating theatres, an emergency department with 20 treatment spaces, consulting suites, a clinical education and simulation precinct, pharmacy, pathology and medical imaging. All that plus more than 400 workers – 700 eventually – providing private and public medical services.
It’s a big, sophisticated enterprise and, as neurosurgeon Nick Hall says, it’s one that will save a great many lives, notably through the synergies of the neurosurgery unit and facilities that he will head up, and its emergency department.
“Having an emergency department means that, for the first time in this region, neurosurgical emergencies such as brain haemorrhage and trauma can be dealt with expediently,” he says.
“Previously, after diagnosis, critically ill patients had to be transferred to Melbourne, which even via air ambulance may take several hours. As you can appreciate, for a critically ill patient this may mean the difference between life and death or a terrible neurological outcome.
“We have the most up-to-date diagnostic imaging equipment. In the theatre, the hospital has invested in a robotic 3D imaging system from Siemens called the Artis zeego. This, combined with fully radiolucent operating tables from Maquet and 3D spinal navigation systems from Stryker, allow minimally invasive navigation along the whole spine ensuring the placement of rods, screws and cages with high levels of accuracy and small incisions.
“This cutting-edge technology makes spinal fusion procedures for patients faster, safer and quicker to recover from. The hospital has also invested in cutting-edge cranial navigation systems as well as the best microscopes and other equipment.”
Sophisticated as it might be, chief executive officer Damian Armour knows well the complex and emotive realities fully attendant to the healthcare industry and which the Epworth will have to deal with daily – not just with patient health but, in most cases, with the anxieties and concerns of their families as well.
“The toughest aspect is ensuring all our systems and policies come together seamlessly as they are required,” he says.
“The complex web of healthcare involves people from a lot of different backgrounds working together as a team, ensuring they have the right equipment to do the job and they have been trained in how to deal with it.
“Epworth has built an outstanding facility and we have recruited an exceptional leadership team already so we are well on our way to meeting that challenge and getting the reward of being able to provide the highest level of care and service to the people of this region,” Damian says.
As emergency department director Matt Ryan puts it: “It really is a once-in-a-career opportunity for our staff. This excitement has been reflected in our recruiting and we have been able to attract a cohort of highly trained, enthusiastic and young (myself excluded) emergency doctors and nurses.
“The infrastructure and physical layout of the emergency department, and the hospital in general, is incredible and we are very fortunate to be given the opportunity to care for patients in a new facility on a greenfield site.
“As it is a new hospital, every single piece of equipment is new, of course. Perhaps contrary to public perception, most emergency department patient care is provided with relatively low-tech equipment. We will have a fast-track area with reclining chairs rather than traditional beds for rapid treatment of our younger and more ambulant patients.
“One piece of technology that will set the Epworth emergency department apart is point-of-care terminals which will be provided in every room.”
Epworth’s emergency department patient cohort is relatively predictable, not so different to private hospitals elsewhere – older patients with medical conditions will likely comprise the majority of patients.
Patients with surgical problems such as kidney stones and appendicitis will also be common presentations; likewise, workplace or sporting injuries along with children with non-critical illnesses.
While Geelong Hospital’s sudden name-change to University Hospital Geelong suggests a level of competition locally between public and private hospitals, one of Epworth’s greatest strengths is likely to be its collaborative capacity. The upshot is better health options for ill people.
“Bringing a high quality service closer to home shouldn’t be under-estimated in terms of its value to all the people involved. Local access to emergency treatment for some patients may make the difference between life and death,” Nick says.
Teaching will be an important component of what Epworth does.
The emergency department will have medical students from next year and most likely in smaller groups than at University Hospital Geelong – perhaps two or three at any one time.
Glenn Guest, Epworth Geelong’s newly appointed professor of surgery at Deakin University, will play a key role, supervising trainees and helping oversee audit, quality assurance and national-state registries.
“The brand new hospital contains some of the best teaching facilities we could have ever hoped for and, with the Deakin University school of medicine only 200 metres from the doorstep, this is a hospital that will thrive on education and research,” Glenn says.