Penola residents and ambulance staff have welcomed the reopening of the emergency department at the local hospital.

Key points:

  • The department was closed to protect residents in an adjoining aged care facility due to COVID-19
  • Locals say the reopening makes a significant difference for people requiring immediate medical help
  • The nearest emergency departments have been in Mount Gambier and Naracoorte, each about 50km away

The ED was closed in March last year amid the coronavirus pandemic to protect residents at the adjoining Pinchunga aged care facility.

The Limestone Coast Local Health Network released a statement on Monday afternoon saying that the facility had reopened that morning.

“In line with official health advice, Penola ED is safe to reopen as there is no community transmission of COVID-19 in South Australia and minimal health risk to Penola’s aged care residents,” the statement said.

Bill Murray, chair of the Penola and District Medical Support Group, said he was “very pleased” to hear the news.

“It’s been a bit of a problem for the last few months that we haven’t had that [facility] open,” he said.

Bill Murray says it is reassuring to have the department open again.(ABC News: Tasha Impey)

Mr Murray said having the ED open would make a significant difference for locals requiring immediate medical help.

“It’s just a matter of timing; for people to rush to emergency in Mount Gambier or Naracoorte, it’s at least a 40-minute drive each way,” he said.

“To be able to call in to Penola and have a quick assessment, and if they can manage it there or at least ascertain some of the symptoms, then at least it gives you a better chance of full recovery.

He said it was reassuring to have the facility open.

“It just gives us that sense of wellbeing if we know that there is a doctor or a triage nurse on duty at Penola.

“We’re generally isolated in this part of the world from exposure to the pandemic, so it’s wise that we can try and get back to a semblance of normality as soon as we can.

Relief after permanent closure concern

Andrew Shouksmith, Ambulance Employees Association state councillor for the Limestone Coast, said the group had been worried about the facility’s future.

“We were a little bit concerned that this might be the end of the emergency department at Penola and [the local health network] would not reopen it,” he said.

“But we are pleasantly delighted that they have reopened the facility there.”

Most emergency patients were being transferred to Mount Gambier.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

Mr ShoukSmith said the reopening was a relief for Penola locals and volunteers.

“It certainly gives them the ability to go to a local medical facility instead of having to go to either Mount Gambier or Naracoorte.

“Obviously for the wider community, there is an emergency department available to them again rather than having to travel for 50 kilometres in either direction.”

Related Stories