The Keith and District Hospital is no closer to securing funding from the South Australian Government to help support future operation of the hospital.
At a community meeting held last night, the hospital's board updated the Keith residents on their current situation, while allowing them to voice their concerns.
Board chair Warren Ingerson said he is confident there will be a funding agreement at some stage, but voiced his frustration with the SA Government's inability to finalise the process.
A review of the hospital was conducted in early 2019 by the SA Government through Country Health SA engaged external consultant Asia Australis, and resulted in the board receiving eight options.
Mr Ingerson said the board were told that choosing an option and developing a business plan would see the hospital receive funding for a five-year period.
The hospital selected 'option eight', and with that, they were required implement a number of reforms before an agreement could be potentially reached.
After doing what was required, the hospital presented its plan to the Limestone Coast Local Health Network (LCLHN) board chair Grant King and CEO Ngaire Buchanan in January this year.
Mr Ingerson said they have received very little response from the LCLHN, SA Health and the SA Government since the start of the year.
"We are 9-10 months down the track and we are currently no better off than where we were in January this year - the board is incredibly frustrated," Mr Ingerson said.
"We have been told verbally that a number of documents have been sent, via the LCLHN, to Minister for Health Stephen Wade's office - the minister in recent times has denied he has any of those documents."
Mr Ingerson said the hospital is currently seeking around $1.5 million of funding per year.
"We are asking for $1.5 million in funding, but the government has been giving us just under $1 million for the last 10 years - I cant understand why they are baulking at that," Mr Ingerson said.
While the hospital's currently funding agreement concludes at the end of December, Mr Ingerson said he has been assured that temporary funding has been requested and will likely be provided until June 30, 2021.
"The temporary funding is just another band-aid - how does a facility negotiate employment contracts when you have six months worth of funding?," Mr Ingerson said.
Shadow Minister for Health Chris Picton, who attended last night's meeting, said without a hospital some people from the Keith community may consider leaving the area.
"I am sure there are a lot of people who would question continuing to live in the community if they didn't have access to a hospital in the years to come," Mr Picton said.
In July this year, Mr Picton toured the hospital, and after discussions with Mr Ingerson, he felt that there was some light at the end of the tunnel, despite delays.
"At that stage, we were hopeful that the health minister was making the right noises. There was no reason for concern because, even though it was lengthy and delayed, it seemed like it was on track," he said.
With the SA Government handing down the largest budget deficit in the state's history, there were questions on how the hospital could not receive the "miniscule amount of money" it needs.
"In the context of the stage budget, it is a miniscule amount of money - we just had a state budget that has delivered the largest budget deficit in the state's history of $2.6 billion," Mr Picton said.
"What you're asking for, in comparison to what you have been receiving, is a few hundred thousand dollars extra to keep this hospital open and provide a key service to the community."
Despite the tough conditions the hospital board has been working under, Member for MacKillop Nick McBride commended their effort.
Mr McBride said it would have been easy for board members to "throw stones" at the SA Government over the last couple of months.
"Past board members would have probably thrown stones at the government, but Warren and his board have resisted," Mr McBride said.
"The dialogue and passion to find middle ground has been something that they haven't been used to."
Although the funding situation has be ongoing for a number of years, Mr McBride said he has hope that the hospital will get its desired result at some stage.
"It has been a huge battle for everyone, but I am confident that we will have success - this is a strong community that punches well above its weight," Mr McBride said.
Mr Ingerson urged the Keith community to rally together and send their thoughts to Minister Wade in the hopes of garnering his attention.
"The SA Government are trying to wear us down, but we are trying to wear them down," Mr Ingerson said.
Despite the future of the Keith and District Hospital still being unclear, the board are hopeful that their persistence will result in the hospital receiving the funding it desperately needs.
Note: Due to the Border Chronicle's deadline being Monday at 5pm, this story was unable to make Wednesday's edition. It will feature in next week's edition.