HOW can Leeton come together to lobby for change at the town's hospital?
That was the main question which circulated Monday's public meeting to discuss the Leeton District Hospital that in recent years has continued to plagued by a variety of issues.
At the top of this list include the lack of a full-time doctor to service the facility, pressure being put on nursing staff, an alleged "bad culture" at the hospital and the many near-misses that could have resulted in death for some patients.
Monday's public meeting was hosted by Member for Murray Helen Dalton, with around 40 community members turning out.
A strong contingent of this was made up by those who wanted to share their stories, the majority of Leeton Shire Council councillors and those who want to help come up with real solutions.
It is not the first time a meeting has been held to discuss these issues, with many asking why nothing had changed.
The issue of health and the Leeton hospital is a complex one - with many arms of government and departments all playing a role in different areas of the system, making it difficult for any one solution to be found.
Mrs Dalton told the meeting she would continue to fight on behalf of the community, lobbying the government and the Murrumbidgee Local Health District.
She said the system was broken and it was time for the community to stand up and make some noise in order for change to come.
In the past, MLHD has advertised for a full-time doctor at the hospital, but said no suitable applicants have been found.
There have been applicants from overseas for this position, but it is understood their qualifications aren't deemed to be what is required in Australia.
The position was also advertised for up to $190,000 per annum, a factor which is said would also turn prospective doctors away, who would expect to be earning much more.
With the COVID-19 pandemic making it difficult to host rallies or large group gatherings, no real solution was come to on the night.
However, the community has been urged to take the fight into their own hands.
"The squeaky wheel will always get the oil," Mrs Dalton told the community.
"I can lobby and bring issues to attention, but we need the community to get behind this."
The feel in the room on Monday night was one of everyone having a story to share of how the hospital's lack of appropriate staffing had let them down and often led to life-threatening situations.
Residents were quick to explain they weren't blaming nursing staff at the hospital as their care under tough circumstances was always appreciated.
Council general manager Jackie Kruger explained to the meeting how it planned to come up with a "health plan" this financial year that would work in collaboration with the MLHD and Murrumbidgee Primary Health Network to try and determine real solutions.
Both Mrs Kruger and mayor Paul Maytom said they had continued to meet with authorities over the years, but were frustrated at a lack of action.
Concerns remain that the hospital is being allowed to be "downgraded" so that one day it will just be closed down.
This is something the MLHD has refuted in the past, pointing to upgrade work that is set to start at the hospital.
However, the hospital's operating theatre remains at a standstill and the community continues to cry out for not just a full-time doctor, but also mental health services at the facility.
"When we meet with the health district they go to great lengths to tell us they have no intentions of downgrading our hospital," Mrs Kruger told the meeting.
"At least verbally, they tell us they want to see it improve.
"Of course we are all dissatisfied. We here it constantly, the councillors here it constantly.
"The community is not getting that same sense of assurance.
"Council has put extra money aside in this financial year for what we are loosely calling a 'health plan' for Leeton.
"We want to start a conversation with the health authorities to see how we can work together and in partnership to have a new system or way of working in this area.
"It's a hard conversation to have.
"Health services are so fragmented in terms of state and federal governments.
"There's a whole lot of complicated industrial relations matters across the board that also need to be taken into consideration."
Residents also expressed frustration at patients being shipped to and from Leeton hospital to other facilities in both Wagga and Griffith.
This puts added pressure on the ambulance service, which is said to already be struggling with new rosters that have been put in place within the last 12 months.
Others remained frightened at the lack of care available at times of emergency or even when a pregnant mother goes into labour and is expected to travel to other centres to give birth.
Paul Smith from the Leeton Volunteer Rescue Association spoke about how volunteers are now being expected to provide life-saving medical treatment in some cases when ambulances and paramedics have been called away from town.
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He said the toll and burden that places on volunteers has resulted in many leaving the service.
Mrs Dalton said the time was now for the community to band together to bring change.
"It's just unacceptable that things keep getting worse and worse," she said.
"The community deserves better.
"I know this isn't an issue that's just local to Leeton, it's happening everywhere, but we need to come together and find solutions.
"No one else is going to do it for us."
Mayor Paul Maytom also addressed the crowd on the night.
It's just unacceptable that things keep getting worse and worse.Member for Murray Helen Dalton
With the local government elections, councillor Maytom will stay on as mayor until December and as such will now be able to address the inquiry into rural health which comes to Wagga in October.
Suggestions were made by the group on the night that the community attend this inquiry to get their message across.
Mrs Dalton said she was open to ideas on what the next step could be.
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