You are here: Home » Celebrating 150 years with the community

Celebrating 150 years with the community

Community members helped Northeast Health Wangaratta (NHW) celebrate its 150th anniversary at an event at the WPACC on 17 March.

The theme “Building on healthy foundations”, offered an opportunity for community members to get a glimpse into the past, present and future of the health service.

After two and a half years of restricted entry and emergency response to COVID-19, including the postponement of the original community event scheduled in December, NHW was delighted to commemorate the occasion with the community.

In speaking at the event, NHW Board Chair Alison Maclean said that over the course of 150 years the hospital had been a cornerstone of the community and provided care to generations of patients.

“We’ve been a touchstone for people through the trials and tribulations of their lives and provided employment to thousands of people,” she said at the event.

“The core values that underpin our organisation – courage, excellence, fairness, integrity, kindness and respect – have guided us for 150 years and will continue to guide us in the years to come.”

“Throughout our history, from the Spanish Flu to the current COVID pandemic, world wars, the great depression, floods and fire, our hospital has faced many challenges and much change. And while we are always looking to the future, it’s very valuable to take the time to look back and appreciate our history from those humble beginnings, to appreciate the challenges of the times, the innovations as they unfolded and the people that forged the health service that we know today.”

The foundation stone for Northeast Health Wangaratta was laid on 25th of January ,1871 and the hospital opened on the 5th of January 1872.  At the time of opening the hospital consisted of a detached kitchen and a wash house, a two bedroom building with one room acting as a ward and the other a storeroom.

NHW Chief Executive Officer, Libby Fifis, shared some of the history with attendees before special guest speaker, Dr Helen Haines gave her address.

“These humble beginnings accommodated ten patients, which was soon increased to twenty.  A paid medical officer and two Honorary Medical Officers were appointed, along with the Matron and House Steward,” Ms Fifis said.

“A new ward was built in the 1880s to help meet the demand caused by contagious diseases. In the 1890s, tents were used to accommodate patients during the typhoid epidemic, before the Queen’s Ward was opened in 1897, coinciding with Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and bringing bed numbers up to 67. A new kitchen and laundry was added in 1901, a theatre block in 1909, and the first nurse residence in 1915.”

“The Charities Act of 1924 elevated the status of the hospital to a Base Hospital, and earmarked many decades of development for the hospital, which was required to develop intermediate and private wards, infectious and children’s wards, maternity, Xray and pathology.”

“In 2007 another milestone was added to our history with the provision of aged care services to our community and the opening of Illoura, which means ‘a peaceful place’.”

The celebration of 150 years included a strong nod to the key role volunteers played from the very early days, including fundraising appeals, donations of wood to run the boiler, egg collections and food collections.

“Volunteers and fundraising continues to provide vital support for our hospital and a valued connection to our community,” Ms Fifis said.

History and memories of our years were captured when Northeast Health celebrated its 140th year, including production of the book ‘From the Base and Beyond’ and the establishment of a memory wall near the café in our hospital. NHW said it looks look forward to adding to that with the continued preservation and display of its story.

In the present day, more than 1600 staff work across the NHW service in support of the community to deliver residential aged care, community services, emergency and inpatient care.  During the last year staff have enabled:

  • 28,032 presentations to the Emergency Department,
  • Around 6,800 surgical procedures,
  • The birth of more than 700 babies,
  • More than 71,000 presentations through Medical Imaging, and
  • More than 111,000 consultations through community services.