Oamaru Hospital

The History of Oamaru Hospital

Beginnings: 1864 - 1871

In 1864, the Oamaru Town Board consulted its two local physicians, Drs J S Wait and T J T Williams regarding the selection of a suitable location for a hospital.  The first site chosen was in Reed Street, where the North School now stands.  However, efforts to raise funds through public support were unsuccessful.  Reasons for this are unclear, but in the minds of many people, hospitals were somewhere to die and not places to get well.

New Public Appeal

In 1871 a public meeting was held to organise a new appeal.  This time public support was more enthusiastic and the project, supported by a Provincial Government subsidy, was able to proceed.  The success this time was due to a great extent to the efforts of Oamaru businessman, Samuel Shrimski.

Building Contract Awarded

By the end of 1871, a permanent hospital committee had been formed.  The original Reed Street site had been abandoned in favour of Reserve D, a high section overlooking Eden and Chelmer Streets.  A design for a single-storey hospital was adopted and the building contract was awarded for the sum of £729.

The Oamaru Hospital: 1872 - 1918

The foundation stone for the new hospital was laid by Deborah Shrimski (Samuel's wife) on 2 April 1872.  Oamaru shops were closed for the occasion, and the town adorned with bunting.  A procession headed by the town band left Takaro Park for the high and windy site.

Oamaru Hospital Opens

Oamaru Hospital was officially opened on 2 December 1872, although the first patient, 12 year-old James Riddell had been received the previous month.  The new facility had four small wards with two beds each.  There was also a day room, a surgery, and two rooms for the warder and his wife.  An attached wooden building contained a pantry, kitchen and wash house.

According to the North Otago Times report on 3 December 1872, the Hon John McLean, president of the hospital committee, noted that the "present financial condition of the hospital was very satisfactory".  He added that "he would like to see the grounds ploughed up and properly laid and would be willing to send two plough teams himself and others would no doubt be happy to assist in a similar manner".

The First Year

During the first complete year 63 patients were admitted, with an average daily patient occupancy between six and seven.  Patients were expected to make a financial contribution where possible.  Many were not able to afford the £1 weekly fee, but the committee didn't press them for payment.  Some patients, however, were quite able to pay, but managed to avoid doing so.

Hospital Funding and Building Plans

The trustees continued to administer the Hospital relying on contributions, fees and income from endowments.  From 1890s through the early years of the next century, the trustees undertook a major building plan.  The men's ward was extended and a sunroom and nurses' quarters added.  However, hospital developments were always limited by a shortage of funds.

Waitaki Hospital Board Years: 1925 - 1990

By 1924, the trustees were in financial difficulties.  Further extensions and improvements were required and the old administration was simply unable to afford them.  In 1925 the hospital committee finally accepted Government control and the Waitaki Hospital Board took over.

At the time of the take-over the Oamaru Hospital provided 60 beds - 36 in the general wards, 14 in the isolation block, 8 in the children's ward and 2 in the consumptive (tuberculosis) shelter.  Average bed occupancy per day totalled 39.3.  There were 20 nurses and a domestic staff of 11 workers.

More Improvements

The new administration made a number of improvements over the next few years.  For example, a new TB (tuberculosis) shelter and an x-ray room were opened in 1926, and new wards built in 1930.  Some wards were named after benefactors of people connected with the hospital.  These names include Fraser, Forrester, Kirkness, and Hall, among others, and are remembered on plaques to this day.

Developments: 1930 - 1980s

The period from 1930 to the 1980s saw a great deal of development.  The Adeline Jones Maternity Annexe opened in 1952 and a new hospital block was completed in 1964.  The theatre block and dispensary were upgraded and, in 1984, new geriatric wards and an administration block were opened.

New Bureaucracies 1990 - 1999: Uncertain Times

Government health reforms led to uncertainty for nearly a decade.  Area Health Boards would be abolished and replaced by a bewildering range of bureaucracies whose aim was to "rationalize" health costs and delivery.  Some hospital charges were also introduced.  It became clear that regional health services were under threat.

By November 1991, it seemed likely that Oamaru Hospital would be downgraded and lose its surgical services.  Public response to this was immediate, and a petition was signed by 12,126 people.  In Oamaru a citizen's march attracted 13,500 protesters - half of the Waitaki population.

In June 1993, the Crown Health Enterprise and Regional Health Authority two-tier funding structures were established.  Public concerns and lobbying efforts did little to stem the tide of change as Oamaru's hospital services were gradually allowed to run down.

Further changes included a loss of inpatient surgical procedures in 1994.  Deep concern was felt in many quarters and Waitaki District Council representatives were appointed in an endeavour to explore ways and means of maintaining the hospital and services.

By 1997 all surgical operations requiring anaesthetic had ceased.  The Adeline Jones Maternity Annexe also closed.  This period of uncertainty was especially hard for hospital staff who worked under increasingly difficult circumstances.

A New Hospital 1998 - 2000

Eventually, as a result of a variety of community lobbyists, a contract was secured with the then Government Funding Agency, ensuring a continuation of services for the Waitaki population.  This provided the impetus for a drive to build a new hospital complex.  An innovative plan was conceived by architect John McKenzie, incorporating the historic Middle School in a modern complex near Takaro Park.

Waitaki District Council established Waitaki District Health Services Ltd to own and run the new hospital and the Government was approached to provide the necessary funding.  The initial board comprised of Mr G L Berry, Chairman; Mesdames E Ludeman (Deputy); K Hanning; Dr D Holdaway; Messrs A Alden and K J Scott.  Councillor B N Albiston (interim).

In 1998 the Government announced a $5 million loan towards the building of a new Oamaru Hospital.  Its opening on 28 June 2000 has continued a service to the town and district which began nearly 140 years ago, when the need for such a facility was first considered.

The above article was Courtesy of the North Otago Museum   www.northotagomuseum.co.nz 

Oamaru Hospital 2000 onwards

The Oamaru Hospital by McKenzie Architects was awarded a Heritage and Conservation Award at the 2000 NZIA-Resene Local Architecture Awards for Southern Branch.  This was announced at Rydges Hotel, Queenstown. Architect John McKenzie was praised by the judges for handling the restoration of the building with care. They said the hospital complex was being recognised by the jury for its revitalisation and restoration of a previously derelict area of the inner town adjacent to the main highway. “The decision to relocate the hospital to this location and upgrade the original Middle School as part of it has breathed life into this part of the town,” they said.  
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