THE fight for Maryborough's St Stephen's Hospital has ended with Uniting Care Health confirming it will close its doors next month.
Many who championed the case for the hospital to remain open had hoped a meeting on Wednesday night between board members and the Uniting Church congregation would bring good news but, just hours before, UCH executive director Richard Royle said it was with "genuine regret" that the hospital would finally close.
Citing the closure of the Maryborough Base Hospital's ICU Unit and the migration of skilled medical workers to expanded services in Hervey Bay as the reason for the decision, Mr Royle said despite "significant investment" in the hospital, the board had explored alternative proposals but the "strong preference" of professionals to head down the road had left them with no other option.
He insisted the entire region would benefit from Hervey Bay St Stephen's, which will be fully operational next month.
Tinana's Nan Ott, a key advocate for the Save St Stephens petition, which when presented to the board last month carried more than 12,000 signatures, despaired at the news.
Just last week, she was among the residents celebrating the hospital's 68th birthday and when she heard of last night's meeting she thought people power might have shone through.
"I hoped this meeting was to say 'the old girl is getting a reprieve' ... like a belated birthday present but it wasn't to be," Ms Ott said
"It's a sad day for the whole community.
"The whole thing just makes life harder for the elderly patients who will have to tackle the Bay Rd."
While she accepted the announcement brought one chapter to a close, Ms Ott said she hoped pressure would remain on Uniting Care to be "reasonable with their price" when considering offers, including those which may be presented by competing health care provider Friendlies Pharmacy Group, with which the board has pledged to engage in "further conversations".
Mr Royle said he understood the Maryborough community was "very disappointed" by the decision but assured families that all patients requiring care after the closure would be transferred to Hervey Bay.
Shuttle services and short-term accommodation will also be made available.
St Stephens Maryborough will officially close on October 13.
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