Melissa Vining says her husband Blair would be incredibly “proud and extremely excited” that his idea to bring a charity hospital to Southland is one step closer to reality.
On Tuesday it was announced that the hospital had found a home, with the Invercargill Licensing Trust (ILT) donating the Clifton Club Inn site in Invercargill to be used for the Southland Charity Hospital.
The building on the site would be refurbished to be used as the hospital, with the process expected to take several months. A date for this project to be completed is currently unknown.
Mrs Vining said the announcement would have brought some colourful words of her excitement from her late husband.
“Blair’s response to this probably wouldn’t be printable in the media,” she told the Advocate. “He would definitely have some very loud shouting happy words to say. He would just be incredibly proud of our community and those who have already stepped up and taken on such big roles to help move this forward.”
“I’d say he’d definitely be visiting an ILT establishment to have a drink to celebrate.”
The Southland Charity Hospital Trust was established in 2019 following Mr Vining’s highly- publicised journey navigating New Zealand’s health system.
The Winton local was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2018 and was told he had only weeks to live. However, together with his wife Melissa, he worked tirelessly to reform the system and make access to cancer care equitable for all Kiwis.
The plan for the hospital is to provide free services to those in the southern community who cannot access care from the public or private health systems.
Mrs Vining said it was incredibly important to her and her daughters to continue to fight for the hospital and create a further legacy for Blair.
“The legacy part is huge for the girls and I. Once the hospital opens and starts helping people that he’ll be remembered not by us but by our entire community. But I still feel like the fundamental excitement for me is honouring one of his last wishes which is to get out and start helping people.”
Initially the hospital will provide colonoscopies with the intention to expand the services it provides in time.
It has been modelled on the successful Canterbury Charity Hospital, which has helped thousands of patients since its inception in 2007.
So far close to 400 volunteers had already signed up to help with the hospital, including medical professionals, admin workers and even gardeners and cooks.
Mrs Vining said they currently needed tradespeople to help with the refurbishment of the Clifton Club site.
Southland Charity Hospital Trust chairman Dr Murray Pfeiffer said the generosity of ILT could not be understated.
He said the donation of the Clifton Club Inn was an “unbelievably generous gift” to the people of the south.
“Without it… the charity hospital would probably go ahead but it would be more difficult and the whole process would be much more elongated. In fact, we would’ve had to raise close to $2 million more to build a new hospital.”
ILT Chief Executive Chris Ramsay confirmed there would be no job losses as a result of the hospital taking over the Clifton Club, with all current staff guaranteed continued employment elsewhere within the organisation with no wage losses. The tavern will continue to trade until the trust is ready to begin the renovations.
And with all the positive news to come from the announcement, Mrs Vining said there was still plenty of work to be done moving forward.
“I personally think it’s disgraceful that the politicians aren’t funding our health system well enough and that while I’m grieving my husband that I’m having to contribute to setting up a hospital. But the flip side of that is contributing to something positive, leading by example with my kids that if something is wrong you stand up and try and make it better. That’s what Blair would’ve wanted and that’s how he lived his life was less talking and more doing.”
“Being involved in this project and feeling the love and support of not just our community but the wider southern community and all of New Zealand definitely brings me heaps of comfort and helps me keep moving forward.”
This article was originally written for The Advocate. You can read the published version here