$3,000,000 ERH gift goes begging

By Riverine Herald

ECHUCA Regional Health and the community it serves both sides of the river are almost certain to lose an astonishing $3 million endowment from a local couple.

The couple approached the Victorian Government and ERH a year ago and have all but given up trying to give their money away.

It is understood they are looking at other options for their multi-million dollar gift outside the twin towns.

Member for Murray Plains Peter Walsh has damned the government for ‘‘its atrocious and appalling inability to get such a genuine and valuable gift over the start line, let alone the finish’’ and so badly failing the region.

He told Victoria’s parliament last week he had made several approaches to the Member for Northern Victoria Mark Gepp in a desperate bid for support to save the $3 million.

“Incredibly generous benefactors Alexandra and Geoff Kent in my electorate were prepared to donate $3 million to help achieve the vision of a wellness centre at Echuca hospital, particularly to treat cancer patients,” Mr Walsh said.

“They have had protracted discussions with the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services about this donation and project,” he said.

“The Kents said they have finally raised this issue with me because they are so frustrated and disillusioned with the Victorian Health Department, which has constantly put obstacles in the way of this donation and vision being achieved.

“Last year I made a number of approaches to Mark Gepp, a member for Northern Victoria region for his help with this donation and this project. But nothing came of those requests.

“It is out of sheer frustration on behalf of the Kents and the people of Echuca-Moama, who will be beneficiaries of this project, that I ask the Minister for Health and/or the Premier to personally intervene and get the department to enagage in a constructive way so this project can happen and actually accept what is a very, very generous donation from a couple who want to help the wellness of our community.” Mr Walsh said it “defied logic any government could be so dismissive of an offer of a $3 million donation to help achieve a positive outcome for the community”.

The Kents have chosen not to speak publicly but it is understood they have communicated the withdrawal of their offer to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Mr Walsh said he remained hopeful if the government would get serious in the immediate future there would still be a chance the wellness centre could be launched on the back of the $3 million. He said the Kents had demonstrated to him the government and its representatives had done very little except come up with reasons why it would not try and fast-track the endowment.

ERH chief executive Nick Bush, who inherited this issue when he started his role last year, said he was aware of the negotiations but as it was in the hands of DHHS he was unable to comment at this stage.

But the Kents have indicated ERH has been a strong supporter of the project and they thanked its board and management.

Yesterday afternoon Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said her department was ‘‘moving ahead with plans to ensure the Echuca community has access to expanded cancer and dialysis services closer to home’’.

‘‘We are grateful for the Kent family’s vision and remain open to their ongoing involvement with this important work,’’ Ms Mikakos added.

It is believed there have been differences of opinion as to what the proposed centre will actually look like and what services it will be able to offer now and in the long term.

The wellness centre was always part of the development of ERH and was expected to offer services including oncology and dialysis as well as housing specialist consulting rooms.

In early planning this was to be a two-storey complex with as many as 18 patient chairs for cancer and dialysis patients as well as providing a new home for local and visiting specialists. It is now believed to have been reduced to a single-storey plan with as few as 10 chairs but this has not been confirmed.

It is also understood DHHS is moving forward with its revised design and service profile with final plans yet to be released.