13 May 2021

'He would be so stoked': Southland Charity Hospital honours advocate's dream

5:58 pm on 13 May 2021

The Southland Charity Hospital is another step closer to reality with the issuing of building consent to get construction under way.

Melissa Vining and her daughters.

Melissa Vining and her daughters. Photo: Tim Brown/RNZ

Consent was approved yesterday, just in time to mark late cancer advocate Blair Vining's birthday.

He would have been 41 today.

The Southland farmer was best known for using his final months to fight for better cancer care for all New Zealanders following a diagnosis of terminal bowel cancer in 2018.

But the father of two was also a visionary - and part of that vision was the Southland Charity Hospital.

His widow Melissa Vining had driven that vision since Blair died in October 2019.

"The process of getting the consent has been very challenging," she said.

"We have had a lot of expert design people helping and the council has been incredibly supportive, but to get it here the day before his birthday and to be able to start on his birthday definitely feels like he's shining down on us."

The hospital, which is being converted from an old pub, would cater for the needs of Otago and Southland residents when the public system let them down.

Getting consent for the project was the best present they could have given Blair for his birthday, she said.

"We went out to the cemetery this morning and took the building consent out to him and watched the sun rise. I definitely feel like he would be so stoked with this birthday present knowing that we are ticking off this vision of his of creating this care for everybody in Otago and Southland."

It was hoped the hospital would open by April next year.

Work is underway at Southland Charity Hospital.

Work is underway at Southland Charity Hospital. Photo: Tim Brown/RNZ

However, the Southland Charity Hospital had already started offering colonoscopies to those unable to get the procedure through the public system.

Vining said other services were already in the works.

"We're actually adding in dentistry. So obviously you would've seen the need across the whole country for access to dental health and we're working with different people in the dental field and we've already got plans in place to build a dentist's clinic here."

Boyd Wilson of Bonisch Consultants who is overseeing the build, said with construction beginning, it was now just a matter of mucking in.

"So it's roll the sleeves up, get the hammers out and start building the thing," he said.

"We've got the design, we've got that approved, we've got the funding, we've got volunteer support - so it's co-ordinating all of that to deliver the hospital to the Southland and Otago community."

Consent delays had not translated into construction delays and it remained on track to open as expected.

Southland Charity Hospital general manager, Helen Robinson, said it felt like a milestone day.

"The project itself has such incredible support so to get to this point where it actually feels like this is happening, this is real, we are actually going to do this, we are going to build a hospital - it feels incredibly exciting."

Now the call was out to volunteers, whether they were tradies, medical professionals or just someone willing to learn how to chip bricks because it would take a community to get the doors open.

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