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Redevelopment of the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Sydney, Sunday, 14 June 1998: address on the occasion of the opening.

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SUNDAY, 14 JUNE 1998

The Mater Misericordiae Hospital has been serving the people of Sydney, particularly the northern suburbs, for more than 9 decades. Like so many others, my family and I have had a long association with it - sometimes marked by sadness but always marked by the devoted and selfless care that characterises the mission of the Sisters of Mercy to serve those in need.

As I remarked at the opening of the Australian Catholic Health Care Association’s Conference in Melbourne earlier this month, Helen’s and my knowledge of, and admiration for, the Catholic health care system generally has been progressively enhanced during my term of office as Governor-General. In that time, we have opened or visited a very large number of hospitals, hospital facilities and aged care complexes run by the major Catholic congregations in both metropolitan and rural areas in the various States and Territories. Increasingly, we have become aware of the extent of the contribution to the individual and collective well being of our nation which is made by the Catholic health care system.

This year marks the 160th Anniversary of the arrival of the Sisters of Charity in Sydney in 1838. Only 8 years later, in 1846, the first Sisters of Mercy arrived in Perth to begin their Australian ministry. Thus, within a decade, tile Catholic mission of outreach to the sick was established on both sides of the continent. From such simple beginnings, Catholic health care has grown to the point where it is now the largest non-government provider of health and welfare services to the sick, the aged and the disadvantaged. We have only to think of the enormous gap that would open, for example, were the private and public hospitals operated by the Sisters of Mercy to disappear ... the Mater hospitals in Sydney, Brisbane and other Queensland coastal cities; the Mercy Hospital in Melbourne, St Anne's in Perth, to name but some of them.

Over the years, our Catholic hospitals have had to adapt to meet the changing needs of the Australian community. There have been and remain many challenges, perhaps never more so than in the contemporary climate where to be truly independent of outside control is to face an increasingly uncertain future. Nonetheless, the identity and nature of the mission of the Catholic health care system has been preserved and safeguarded. That mission is a mission of service to the sick and the afflicted. Its methods, its focuses and its services must develop and adjust to meet developments and changes in medical knowledge and social circumstances and to enable it to reach out to areas of unmet need. Its underlying inspiration, its ethical standards and its essential objectives have, however, remained - and must remain - those of the Orders

which own and guide its institutions and facilities and of the faith and the vision which those Orders serve and pursue. Indeed, the mission of Catholic health care in our country is a critical part of the mission of outreach to the disadvantaged and the vulnerable which lies at the heart of the-universal Christian Church.

Sydney’s Mater Hospital was opened by the Sisters of Mercy in 1906 - at the request of Cardinal Moran - to serve the needs of the growing North Shore population, especially the needs of women and children. From the beginning it enjoyed the support of the community.

Over the decades, the Hospital grew in size and stature, providing support and services during the two World Wars and the Depression. Doctors of great eminence were proud to provide their skills to the community through the Mater. And, through all the years, the sisters, the nurses, the auxiliary staff continued the Hospital's commitment and tradition of care and healing.

As you know, the Mater Public Hospital closed at the end of 1982, following a government decision to cease funding. The Mater Private remained in the old red brick building; but a group of dedicated people decided to work together to construct this new and modern Private Hospital adjacent to the old site. This they did. The Mater as we know it today was opened in 1991. It is a hospital providing a range of acute care services in a 187 bed facility: a maternity unit, day surgical unit, eight operating theatres, a cardiac suite, a cancer medicine unit, and so on. I can, as a former patient, personally vouch for the quality of those facilities and of the skill, kindness and care of those who serve in them. Mind you, I stop short of saying that I hope to be able to experience all those advantages on a regular basis.

But of course the process of change is a continuing one, and so is the need to respond to it. Hence the redevelopment that is being officially opened today. It will improve and enhance services in 5 distinct areas within the Hospital: in cancer medicine, cardiac care, day surgery, intensive care and maternity. Others will speak to them in more detail, but let me mention two aspects.

Firstly, the demographics of the North Shore population are changing. The population is becoming older, and thus the need arose for an increased level of service both in cardiac care and oncology. The chemotherapy treatment provided by the Hospital very much reflects the Sisters of Mercy’s mission and vision of the Mater. The recently opened Cancer Medicine Cottage in Gillies Street - part of the present redevelopment - provides a warm, friendly, caring atmosphere. Chemotherapy is given in an environment were not only physical treatment, but also emotional and spiritual support for patients is at hand.

At the other end of the age spectrum, maternity care has been a core service provided by the Mater since its inception. My personal memories of that aspect of the Mater go back almost 50 years to when one of my own sisters did her obstetrics training here. The new developments reflect the need to serve the younger population of the region who increasingly wish to use the Mater’s superb maternity services. These new facilities, now with 6 delivery suites and an enlarged intensive care nursery, means that the hospital will be able to reduce the numbers of people whose bookings it has

been unable to accept. I am quite sure that the other developments ... the new angiography unit, the increased flexibility of the day surgery unit, the doublh1g of the size of the intensive care unit ... will also contribute to the Mater’s capacity to serve the community efficiently, caringly and well, both now and into the next century.

Ladies and gentlemen, such capital developments are not cheap, and I know that a Capital Appeal has commenced. Let me commend it to you. Your support of it is a most appropriate means of acknowledging the past and continuing dedication and service of the Sisters of Mercy and of those who work or have worked with them in the Mater Hospital for so many years.

And now, with great pleasure, I officially declare open the Redevelopment project.