Canterbury Hospital marks 90 years of caring for the community
Doctor Matthew Chu describes Canterbury Hospital as the heart of the community.
“The community has a very strong connection to this place and I don’t think that’s changed,” Dr Chu, who’s worked at Canterbury for 35 years, said.
It’s a bond that now stretches back 90 years.
The hospital, then known as the Canterbury District Memorial Hospital, opened its doors on the 26 October 1929. A tower, over the hospital’s original entrance, is still a landmark on Canterbury Road today.
Back then, it was the first major hospital in the district. A few years earlier a committee had been set up to raise funds to build it.
Mavis Stephens, 99, grew up in Campsie and her father, who had a milk run, helped collect donations.
“I still remember my father going slowly up and down Beamish Street with two horses and a dray. People would put money [to donate to the hospital] into the little pouches on the side of the dray,” she said from her Sydney nursing home.
“My mother baked cakes. She’d be on one of the tables [that lined the footpath] as you walked down Beamish Street. Cakes, jams, pickles. You name it, they would sell it and the money raised went to the hospital.”
Fundraisers also included an aviation show, races, parades, a fancy dress competition and balls. A site was later selected for the new hospital and in 1927, about 1000 people attended a ceremony for the laying of the foundation stone. It’s estimated the hospital cost about £31,000 to build.
When it opened two years later, it had 28 beds to serve a population of 70 000. In its first year it saw 587 patients and was staffed by doctors, nurses, nine specialist consultants and three dentists.
In the 1930s, Eileen Kinsey was among the first nurses to train at Canterbury.
Her daughter, Roslyn Vander Sandt said “She completed her nurses entrance examination, was accepted and was told to purchase her uniform – black stockings, duty shoes and a men’s pocket watch with a second hand for taking pulses. She arrived back at the hospital and her first shift was the next day,” she said.
Eileen and Roslyn became the first mother and daughter to both train as nurses at Canterbury Hospital.
During the Depression, the hospital held Egg and Potato Day appeals. In 1936, local public schools donated more than 3000 eggs and more than 800 pounds of potatoes.
The hospital expanded adding extra beds and new medical services during the 1930s and 1940s. During this time, Thorncraft House, named in honour of Alderman Herbert Thorncraft who dedicated many years to the hospital, was built.
Later, in 1941, when Japan entered World War II, some patients were evacuated to their homes so beds would be available in readiness for any civilian casualties from possible air raids.
Maternity and outpatient wards were added in the 1950s.
Like Herbert Thorncraft, Kevin Stewart was a key figure as Board Chairman from 1955 to 1976 before becoming NSW Health Minister, a position he held for more than five years.
“He put in many long hours, time and effort. Before he got into politics, he’d been involved with the hospital. He met up with all people from all the different hospitals. When he became Minister, he knew everybody and everybody knew him, so I think that’s what made it so successful,” his widow Jean Stewart, who awards an annual nurses’ scholarship in his memory, said.
“Canterbury has been part of my life. The hospital buildings may have changed, but you can still see familiar faces,” Jean, 91, said.
One of those familiar faces was now-retired midwife Elizabeth Martin, who it’s estimated delivered about 10 000 babies during her almost 50-year career at the hospital.
She even delivered the babies of babies that she’d once brought into the world.
“It’s changed in many ways. When I first started, there wasn’t any ultrasounds or monitors to record the baby’s heart,” she said.
At the time, midwives made patient dressings, sterilised equipment, repaired gloves, washed linen nappies and wrote baby name tags.
“Husbands weren’t allowed in the labour ward. They would visit once their wife had been transferred to the ward. Staff in the nursery took the babies to their mother to feed. And then took them back to the nursery, changed them and settled them down,” she said.
The expansion of the hospital buildings and services continued through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s to meet the changing needs of a growing community.
Long-serving surgeon Robert Claxton, who joined the hospital in 1974, said there’d been many technological advances, particularly to monitor patients during surgery.
“I tell them they are safer on the operating table than walking across the street. Because everything that happens is being monitored all the time,” he said.
The hospital was slated for closure in the mid-1990s but a public campaign by the local community helped overturn the decision.
Just over 20 years ago the hospital underwent an $80 million redevelopment which included five new operating theatres, a 24-hour emergency department, a new radiology department, a maternity ward with private rooms for mothers, and a new community health centre. At that time, the hospital had 217 beds to cater for a population of 130,000.
Vicki Manning joined the hospital in 1997 as the Director of Nursing and Midwifery Services and remained for 11 years.
“It was going through the re-development at that stage and was on three campuses across the District. There were services at Concord, RPA and at Canterbury as well. The redevelopment was a significant achievement for Canterbury and the health services at the time,” she said.
Gary Miller, a former General Manager at the hospital, guided the team in the early years post the redevelopment.
“It was a period when the hospital was going through a lot of challenges… there was a high demand for services. When I came to Canterbury… it was a place where everyone knew each other and everyone from the General Manager down was approachable.
“The size of the hospital dictates, in some ways, the type of culture that it has and this is one that’s very supportive and very friendly,” he said.
During that time, Shirley Smith was primarily responsible for fundraising at the hospital.
“Community support made this hospital. The generosity of local organisations and residents was enormous,” she said, recalling one woman who contributed $25 a fortnight for many years.
“That was pretty special. And, just as significant as the bigger financial donations. That’s what made it a community hospital,” she said.
The hospital currently provides a wide range of hospital services, with a focus on maternity, paediatrics, aged care, general medicine, general surgery and ambulatory care, to a population of 175 000 people many of whom have multi-cultural backgrounds.
There are also other healthcare services on-site including a community health centre, the Tresillian Family Care Centre and an after-hours General Practice Service.
Fran O’Brien, the hospital’s current Director of Nursing and Midwifery Services, said the composition of the local community has evolved over time.
“It’s changed over the years. But every change that we have, it never decreases the community’s sense of belonging and wanting to be part of our hospital. We love the community, we love the spirit of the hospital. Staff here are always willing to go the extra mile. To do more than they need to do. And they do it for the right reasons because they love what they do,” she said.
Work has started on a $6.5 million expansion of the hospital’s Emergency Department and a masterplan has been put together to ensure that the hospital meets the community’s needs well into the future.
The hospital’s current acting general manager Kiel Harvey said “I am exceptionally proud of our hardworking staff who have continued to deliver excellent, timely patient care, despite an increase in the number of patients seeking help.”
“We know this area is rapidly growing and I’d like to thank our staff who continually rise to the challenges of an increasing population to deliver exceptional care,” he said.
When asked why he’s chosen to remain at Canterbury, Dr Chu pauses. “My heart is here. I value the community here. It’s one of the reasons I stay.
”The staff work together very well. And, they have one purpose in mind. And, that’s looking after the patients in the community that they serve,” he said.