It is now 18 months since our Lismore medical practice was inundated by the floods. In some ways it feels like an eternity but in others it feels quite recent, as we are still dealing with the fallout and impacts, not just on our practice but also within the community.
The flood has changed our practice profoundly and permanently. Fortunately, at this distance from the event, there seem to be as many positive aspects to the change as negative ones.
Financially we are still challenged, but no longer facing bankruptcy. We have taken steps to “insure” ourselves as we can no longer get even a quote for flood insurance. Some 18 months on, we are not yet done with the repairs to the property but we are down to the less important repairs, such as fixing the potholes in the driveway (quote - $38,000.00).
We applied for some funds from the grant announced jointly by federal and state governments and provided more than $500,000 of receipts in support of our application – we were fortunate to receive a grant for $200,000, which was the cap, but with basic maths you can see why financially we are still behind the 8-ball.
At the end of the day, no one goes into General Practice expecting to make tons of money – if you do you will likely be very disappointed. Nonetheless, it will be a relief when we are back in a position similar to where we were pre-flood, ticking along, making enough money to pay our excellent staff and retain our great doctors, while providing the full range of services to the community.
The good thing now is that I don’t have any doubt that we will get there - it’s just going to take a little longer.
The most positive change at the practice is that our building is just beautiful! All new ceilings, walls, lighting, fresh paint, polished floorboards and cabinetry. It’s a pleasure to go into work each day and it feels and smells so fresh. Had the flood not happened, we may well have not had enough money to do that kind of renovation. Huge kudos to our builder Chris Pratt, an all-round lovely person who got things rolling for us really quickly after the flood. We were able to move back in in January this year.
One of the devastating outcomes from the flood was the loss of four staff members - Dr Doug Mouncey moved to practice in Byron Bay, Dr Amtul Maleeha, our first term reg, whom we could no longer supervise, treasured receptionist Helen Somerville and our lovely nurse Rochelle Penhey.
Rochelle was offered work at Grant Street, which was fantastic for her after the flood and she elected to stay there as the commute was closer to her home. Helen moonlighted as a pharmacy assistant and then worked for the surgical teams and we were delighted when she agreed to come back to work for us casually this year. We were also very happy to be able to offer Dr Maleeha a GPT2 placement with us, which she has just completed. So having shed a lot of tears, we have been fortunate to have some of our staff return to us - it feels like having the team back together.
So now we look to the future of our practice as part of the broader health community in Lismore.
Our next major challenges will be the changes to payroll tax rules, and the introduction of the Medicare Homes. It sometimes feels hard to stay positive when proposed changes seem counterproductive to retaining an excellent primary care system.
As we all know, so many health care decisions seem largely made with economic goals in mind, rather than good health outcomes. With this in mind, we will have to work smarter and probably harder to continue to serve this wonderful community.
Having survived the flood, we know we have the ability to do that, although sometimes I wonder how long I will have the appetite and strength to do it. However, I do love my job… I love my patients and the undifferentiation and complexity of general practice. I love the autonomy of running my own business.
So, Lismore, I think you’ll have me for a while yet…