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A familiar face in a changing world

Yvonne Gibson reflects on her 22 years of service at NHW.

Yvonne Gibson looking at NHW memorabilia from the last 150 years.
NHW staff member for 22 years Yvonne Gibson reminisces at hospital archives.

After 150 years in operation, there are a million stories to be told of the thousands of staff who have walked through the front doors of Northeast Health Wangaratta.

Yvonne Gibson began her career at the health service 22 years ago when it was known as the Wangaratta District Base Hospital.

She has had a box seat in a period of great change, mainly as an executive assistant to the chief executive officers who have been at the helm over that period.

“I also had eight hospital board chairs in that time,” Yvonne said.

“They were all local businessmen and women who had a passion for the community and health care.

“I used to prepare the board papers each month then drive around town and deliver them to their business or house.

“That was before email or uploading documents on-line.”

Yvonne said one of the biggest changes during her time was back in 2002 when the name of the hospital was changed to Northeast Health Wangaratta to reflect how it was now more than just an emergency hospital but a true health service.

“We wanted the word ‘health’ to be in the name to reflect all the allied health services that we delivered including physio, speech, aged care, dieticians, district nurses, even meals on wheels; it was a more encompassing health centre to what it was,” she said.

Even the former cafeteria has undergone change: formerly used by staff only, it went through a refurbishment in amenities as well as menu with a greater focus on nutrition to become a cafe, open to the public as well as staff.

Yvonne said the relocation and expansion of aged care services away from the Green Street premises in 2007 to the newly opened, purpose built Illoura Aged Care was another memorable step.

“It was not only a wonderful facility for the residents but it also opened up plenty of space for the community health services in the vacated building on the hospital campus,” she said.

“That includes dental, support groups for people with certain conditions, the fracture clinic, speech, hand clinic robotics, and diabetes education.

“Also, the recent major redevelopments including the $11 million project in 2012 and the current $22 million project which is almost complete.

“Our staff numbers have increased tremendously since I began which are around 1600 people now.

“Allied health and community health services have really grown, and the Hospital in the Home program, it’s all designed to keep people out of hospital.”

Even staff uniforms have changed, becoming far more ‘user-friendly’ according to Yvonne.

“Since COVID-19 all our staff wear scrubs and that won’t change, even when the pandemic ends, which is a good thing,” she said.

“It’s more comfortable, easier to launder and infection control friendly.”

The presence of the University of Melbourne in the health precinct has also brought many benefits Yvonne said, not only providing young medics to support the rest of the health service but also providing them a greater variety of cases they might not experience in a metro health service.

The university set up its operation in the ‘chalet’ in Docker Street, a former TB ward built after WWII.

The relocation of Kerferd Clinic in 1998 from Beechworth to a modern building at the hospital campus was another major milestone, providing a modern facility which is now operated with voluntary as well as mandatory attendance.

One off Yvonne’s passions has been in the field of fundraising, which allowed staff to play a far more active and public role than we see today.

“We would drop off collection tins at various businesses, organise car raffles, auctions at the hospital, black tie balls in conjunction with many of the service clubs, it was really hands on,” she said.

“The October Appeal was always big, in 1978 they even closed Reid Street to cars and called it a mardi gras with all these stalls and pushing a bed down the street to raise money.

“It was a bit more for the fun as well as the fundraising.

“It really built a good connection between the hospital and the community.

“Another fundraiser was the Kelly Country Classic bike ride that I helped run for over 10 years which had more than 200 riders each year.

“For years in my time the hospital had a team in the Murray to Moyne bike ride that raised money for hospitals all over the state of Victoria.

“COVID put an end to that, much more of the fundraising is done online now, and through philanthropic donations and grants.

“The Friends of the Hospital cake stalls were huge, people would line up out the front door to buy some of their homemade goodies.

“They don’t do it now but they’ve started selling their plumb puddings up the street for Christmas which is good.”

Yvonne, like many of the staff, has adapted and learned new skills as the service, technology, and community expectations have changed, but her commitment and enjoyment has remained firm.

“I’ve love working here,” she said.

Wangaratta Chronicle Friday 4 November 2022 – Article by Shane Douthie and photo by Kurt Hickling