Yacka docs vote down national takeover

4 minute read

Rural generalists in the town of Yackandandah have successfully stared down the national provider attempting to buy out their practice.

In a rare win for the bush – and general practice as a whole – five determined country doctors took a risk that paid off.

All five work for Yackandandah Health, a community-owned health organisation which runs an aged care service, a GP clinic and a childcare facility in a rural area of Victoria.

The community-owned organisation has been running at a loss for some years, which chair Doug Westland said reflected issues that went beyond finances and spoke to the complexity of the aged care industry.

Late last month, the board announced plans to sell Yackandandah Health in its entirety to national provider Apollo Care Alliance, a national provider that buys up small non-profit aged care services.

It came as a shock to the doctors at Yackandandah Health’s GP clinic, who vowed to hand in their resignations if the deal went ahead.

The strategy worked.

At the Yackandandah Health board meeting last night, enough members voted against the resolution to sell to Apollo Care to effectively block the deal.

While just 40% of the board was against the sale, the resolution needed 75% of votes in order to pass, making it a decisive win for the “no” contingent even though the majority were in favour of the deal going ahead.

Apollo Care CEO Stephen Becsi told The Medical Republic that the company appreciates the “courageous decision” of the Yackandandah Health Board, and thanked the 61% of members that supported the motion to sell.

“The Apollo Care Alliance wishes the Yackandandah community the very best as it navigates the path forward to providing excellent services to the residents (and their families) in aged care, the children and parents at Little Yacks, the townspeople attending the general practice, as well as all the wonderful staff across [Yackandandah Health],” he said.

The “no” vote won’t save Yackandandah Health, but it buys the community time to find a more agreeable solution, according to Yackandandah GP Dr Tess Goodwin.

“There’s a lot of social capital in Yackandandah and a lot of experience around community-controlled solutions to some of their essential services,” she told The Medical Republic.

“We’ve got our own Yackandandah development co-op which runs the petrol station and we’ve got a solar power company in town, so there’s a lot of collective expertise around solutions to essential services and ensuring continuity of care.”

Dr Goodwin also intends to reach out for funding assistance from the federal government, and is keen to follow the latest review into funding arrangements for aged care.

According to Dr Goodwin, the increased staffing requirements for aged care which were put in place following the Royal Commission into quality and safety in the sector has created a system that ultimately favours larger corporate providers over small community-run organisations.

“Small rural aged care services … provide service to vulnerable residents,” she said.

“Why is it so hard to manage financially?”

Yackandandah itself is an MM (modified Monash model) 5 location, putting it at the pointier end of the rurality scale.

Amid a workforce shortage that has been felt even more acutely in regional and remote areas, a practice of five enthusiastic and committed doctors is something of a rarity.

 It also takes a small miracle to get GPs willing to work in aged care, making Yackandandah Health even more of an outlier.

While looking around for a community-based option to keep the organisation alive, Dr Goodwin said she would be looking to the Rural Doctor’s Association of Victoria, as well as her two colleges, ACRRM and RANZCOG.

For now, the five Yackandandah doctors plan to prioritise keeping services up and running.

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