‘Degrading’: Aboriginal health leaders plead to replace run-down clinic

An Aboriginal health service in Ceduna says its government-owned building is a “ticking time bomb” riddled with asbestos and mould, but both the state and federal governments have failed to heed calls for funding to build a new clinic.

Jul 09, 2021, updated Jul 09, 2021
Yadu Health Aboriginal Corporation in Ceduna. Photo: Supplied

Yadu Health Aboriginal Corporation in Ceduna. Photo: Supplied

Yadu Health Aboriginal Corporation says between 30 to 40 per cent of the SA Health-owned building out of which it runs its services is deemed unsafe due to water damage, asbestos and mould.

The Aboriginal community-controlled organisation, which services Ceduna as well as surrounding communities such as Koonibba and Scotdesco in the state’s west, says it has repeatedly raised the building’s dilapidated condition with several state and federal ministers.

It says it has applied for multiple government grants to help it fund a new clinic – estimated to cost up to $15 million – but its applications were rejected because it does not own the land and SA Health has until recently only offered short-term leases.

Yadu Health rents the building from SA Health free of charge.

Photos of the building show holes in the ceilings, water-damaged walls, mould and cracked skirtings.

Inside the Yadu Health building earlier this year before repairs. The service says it constantly has to fix mould and water damage in the building. Photo: Supplied

Photo: Supplied

Photo: Supplied

Photo: Supplied

Yadu Health’s executive strategic partnerships manager Warren Miller told InDaily that the building was over 50 years old and had reached the end of its life last year.

He said every winter the roof caved in and water leaked through the skylights, causing potential electrical problems.

“This place is a ticking time-bomb. It’s an accident waiting to happen,” he said.

“The building is about 96 to 98 per cent asbestos and just about every rain we’re having asbestos falling down.

“We have got mould everywhere through the building – whenever Gyprock falls down you can see the black mould behind.

“We’re trying to provide quality care here and it’s only a matter of time before someone gets really, really sick or injured because of the conditions.”

Miller said a storm caused the ceiling to collapse a few years ago. Photo: Supplied

Photo: Supplied

Miller said Yadu Health supports about 3000 of the 5000 people living in the region and is visited by specialist medical practitioners approximately 1300 times each year.

He said the organisation is also one of the biggest employers of Aboriginal people in Ceduna, with about 70 on-the-ground workers supporting the approximate 50 to 100 people who pass through the building on an average day.

If the building was forced close due to safety concerns, Miller said it would leave SA Health-run services including the neighbouring Ceduna Hospital overrun.

The corporation’s acting CEO Leeroy Bilney said no new employees could be hired because there was not enough space in the building.

“Half of the building is condemned, so we can’t use that space, which is limiting where we can work and station,” he said.

It’s quite frustrating and I can’t help but feel how degrading it is.

“We have to be very cautious about how we do things, where we put people because of safety and we don’t want to put them at risk in places where ceilings have fallen before.”

Bilney said Yadu Health was “forced to be creative with how we work with our mob, but that shouldn’t be the case”.

He said health practitioners had started visiting patients at home or consulting them over the phone to “limit the traffic coming through”.

“We’re trying to encourage our mob to take their health seriously, but we can’t bring them into a service which is condemned, doesn’t create safe space, is not culturally appropriate either,” he said.

“We often do promote the fact that whilst we’re working in a condemned environment and a toxic environment, we do have a high-spirited workforce that’s doing the best they can because they’re community people that care, obviously.”

Miller said in recent years, many politicians including past prime ministers had visited Yadu Health and seen the building’s condition, but they had made no commitment to provide funding support.

“Ceduna is only famous for the Indue card – the basic welfare card,” he said.

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“They (the politicians) come and talk here (about the card) and we say ‘we’ve got bigger issues here – we see the people on those cards come here in this building that’s condemned and the life span of this building is gone’.”

Bilney added that alongside providing primary health care services, Yadu also plays an important role in tackling social issues in the area, but its ability to keep doing so is hampered by the building’s condition.

“We’re a community that’s apparently on the news every so often because of deaths that’s happened or alcoholism and the welfare card and we’re here trying to do the best that we can, but yet we’re operating in a building that’s reached its life,” he said.

“We’re trying to empower our people and we’re doing the best that we can, but how much more of an impact would we have if we actually have a bloody well purpose-built building that can cater for these needs plus more?

“It’s quite frustrating and I can’t help but feel how degrading it is.”

In a statement to InDaily, a spokesperson from SA Health’s Eyre and Far North Local Health Network (EFNLHN) said it had granted Yadu Health a 99-year lease of the land so that it could apply for a Commonwealth grant to construct a new building.

We have gone for so many grants and we never go anywhere with them

The spokesperson said the local health network’s “priority” was to work with Yadu Health to secure a new, purpose-built facility that remained co-located with its services.

“We are also providing funding support to Yadu Health for planning and engineering for a new building, demolition of the old building and a temporary consulting space while the new building is being constructed,” they said.

“In the meantime, EFNLHN continue (to) cover maintenance costs for the current building.

“Yadu Health advise EFNLHN when any issues arise and inspections of the building are frequently carried out by EFNLHN.”

Miller and Bilney said they were unsure whether signing the 99-year lease would guarantee them grant funding from the Commonwealth Government.

They welcomed news that SA Health would provide them with funding for planning, engineering and a temporary consulting space, but said they were yet to receive a commitment from the State Government to build a new clinic.

“It’s one thing to give us the 99-year lease so we can go for grants, it’s another thing to say we will go half with the Federal Government to build a new building,” Miller said.

“We have gone for so many grants and we never go anywhere with them.”

Bilney said Yadu Health had already completed a scoping study that outlined the proposed cost and design of the new building.

He said the organisation planned to meet with SA Health Minister Stephen Wade later this month to discuss the scoping study.

“We’re not just sitting here saying ‘poor blackfellas come and help us’, we’re doing all the homework and the work to try to put in the right processes,” he said.

A spokesperson from the Federal Health Department said the Australian Government had provided Yadu Health with approximately $230,000 to upgrade its clinic and staffing accommodation.

The spokesperson said the Government provided funding for capital works project for Aboriginal community-controlled health services through the Indigenous Australians’ Health Program.

The Australian Government remains committed to improving the health outcomes of Australia’s First Nations people,” they said.

In 2018, Yadu Aboriginal Health Corporation (then known as Ceduna Koonibba Aboriginal Health Service) applied for $9.8 million to construct a new medical clinic though a competitive grant round which provided $35 million over 2018-19 to 2020-21.

“The organisation was unsuccessful at that time due to the competitive nature of the grants round.”

InDaily contacted Wade for comment.

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