A hospital was first established on the St Stephen’s Maryborough site in 1905. The original facility, known as St Mary’s Hospital, was later acquired by the St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in 1946. Since then, there has been active involvement by the congregation and community in the management and development of the hospital. A second hospital, St Margaret’s Private Hospital, was also located in what was once known as the John Street medical precinct, and stood where St Stephen’s Medical Centre now stands today.
As part of St Stephens’ 'living’ history, land was purchased in Hervey Bay and a day hospital was opened in 2006. This marked the beginning of a long term development that will see the completion and opening of Australia’s first fully integrated digital hospital in October 2014.
In the Beginning…
In 1905, one Dr HC Garde bought a block of land in Maryborough from the AMP Society and built a private hospital. In 1914, his nephew, Dr Lee Garde, purchased that hospital, St Mary’s, which remained in his ownership until his death 11 years later.
September 1923 saw the appointment of Miss SS Francis as matron, one of four nursing sisters who were to dedicate their skills to the running of the hospital and to the care of patients. In those early days of the hospital, only general cases were admitted, and nurses were not trained on location. There were twelve to fifteen beds, and the hospital was staffed by a matron, one sister, seven nurses and four domestic staff , the nursing staff also being expected to look after Dr Garde’s surgery during consulting hours.
Dr Lee Garde’s death in June 1925 stunned not only the nursing staff of St Mary’s but the whole district. (For these reflections on the early days of the hospital, we are indebted to a former matron of St Stephen’s Hospital, who provided us with the recollections of the late Miss Sara Stella Francis, one-time Matron).
Miss Francis wrote:
“Never in my nursing career had I seen such genuine grief by a Community. The late Doctor’s patients poured into the hospital to ask what to do, all with the attitude that they had lost their best friend and advisor.”
Nevertheless, the Doctor and his uncle had established an institution long to be appreciated in Maryborough. In 1927, the hospital was registered as a recognised training school for nurses, originally offering a five year training schedule, and subsequently reducing that to four 21 beds. Miss Francis and her three sisters took over the running of St Mary’s and purchased the property in 1928.
However, by 1929 it was seen as imperative that accommodation should be extended. Architects were called in from Brisbane, and plans were drawn up and implemented for the construction of a two-storey building. At this time, the Francis sisters had each completed a child welfare course at Truby King’s Hospital in Dunedin, New Zealand, and decided a more enlightened approach was needed to maternity and infant care in Maryborough. Consequently, the second storey of the new wing was registered as a Maternity Hospital and a childcare centre was opened.
During the 1930s, the front portion of the hospital was replaced and rooms in the centre of the building and sun verandah were modernised - these being the only original rooms of the building as bought by the Francis sisters.
After the death of the original owner of the hospital, Dr HC Garde, the sisters purchased his property adjacent to St Mary’s, for until that time the comparatively large private hospital had perched on a small block of land. Later another adjacent block was purchased by the hospital and the sisters Francis, and a number of domestic staff, were able to live on site. At this stage, the gardens, lawns and the general appearance of the hospital were improved.
By the mid 1940s, the workload at St Mary’s was becoming too much for the Francis sisters, and a Miss Asmus, who had retired from military service, was employed. Miss Asmus had previously served as Head Sister at St Mary’s and now returned to her duties. It turned out to be a time of great significance for the hospital. As a result of ill health in their own home, the sisters felt it to be imperative that they be relieved of the responsibility of St Mary’s.
It was at this stage that the Presbyterian Church stepped in. Recognising the importance of the hospital to Maryborough and district, Mr J McPhail, the local minister, made moves to relieve the Francis sisters, at which time the Presbyterian Church took over the running of the hospital.
From the time the Presbyterian Church took over management of the hospital, renaming it St Stephen’s Church Hospital, it operated as part of the social work program of that Church and under the auspices of the Hospital Board. Extension and modernisation has continued along the lines first established by the Doctors Garde and the sisters Francis. In 1952, four cots were added and in 1953 the bedding capacity was further extended to a total of forty-eight. Five years later, the maternity section was rebuilt and modernised. A new wing of six beds brought the total to 54, and a new kitchen and laundry were built.
The Stafford Wing, comprising 26 beds and a theatre suite, were added at a cost of more than $900,000 with this complex being opened on the 2 April 1977. In 1978, a further wing called Forbes Wing was opened.
Further extensions opened by the Rev Alan Kidd, Moderator-Elect of the Queensland Uniting Church, provided further modern amenities, private rooms and four- bed wards, each with talk-back call systems and toilet and shower facilities, geared to cater for the hospital’s medical and surgical needs. The block was dedicated as the AH Alston Block in honour of the long-standing service given to the hospital by its then present matron, who was retiring later that year. The administration block was also opened at a ceremony on 21 May 1983.
It is a hospital that has continued to cater faithfully to the public need first seen by those early founders, Dr HC Garde and his nephew, and those four dedicated sisters of the Francis family. The work of those figures had been continued and it is fitting that the extension should be named in honour of one of the hospital’s more recent dedicated staff, Matron AH Alston.
Other improvements of note:
- On 17 November 1984 a complex of two wings - McPhail and Ingram - were opened.
- A Chapel and Canteen were opened in April 1986.
- A new Laundry was opened in July 1987.
- A Central Sterilising Department was completed in May 1988.
- A new Kitchen and Dining Facilities were completed in December 1991.
- McPhail Wing was extended in 1993 to become a 23 bed unit
St Stephen’s Medical Centre, Maryborough, was built out of a need for facilities for local and visiting consultants. The ground floor currently houses Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology Services and the first floor has ten strata titled units. The centre was built at a cost of $1.3 million and was opened on 26 November 1994 by Dr Greg Stafford.
In June 1998, the Hospital completed a $4 million development which aimed to rationalise and upgrade hospital services to provide a facility that reflected the character and historic significance of the local public buildings. Stafford Wing was demolished to make way for a new two-storey wing incorporating administration, a new reception, covered entry, radiology area and an upgrade of the existing areas.
UnitingCare Health was formed in June 2000 to bring together into one organisation the various hospitals owned and operated by the Uniting Church in Australia (Queensland Synod). The move was not just for the sake of efficiency. It was to provide a strong base for future development of the Church’s healthcare services in Queensland.
UnitingCare Health is the health services arm of UnitingCare (Queensland), which is one of Australia’s largest not-for-profit organisations and Queensland’s largest group of care organisations. This network of care providers also includes BlueCare and UnitingCare Community.
In response to developments within the Fraser Coast health care environment, planning commenced in June 2002 towards the expansion of St Stephen's Hospital, Maryborough with the development of a private hospital in Hervey Bay. Construction commenced in June 2005, with completion of Stage One, a stand-alone day surgery, achieved in February 2006.
Construction of Stage Two, a 96-bed inpatient facility and associated infrastructure, commenced in January 2013 and opened on 13 October 2014. This project was partly funded by the Australian Government through the Health and Hospitals Fund and will result in St Stephen’s Hospital Hervey Bay being Australia's first fully integrated digital hospital in a regional area. Included in this development will be the Sara Stella Francis Medical Centre, named after Matron SS Francis who dedicated so much of her life to serving the local community, and in turn inspiring others to serve.
In September 2014, UnitingCare Health confirmed the closure of St Stephen’s Hospital Maryborough, first announced in May 2013 was confirmed for Monday 13 October when the new St Stephen’s Hospital Hervey Bay opens its doors. UnitingCare Health explored alternative proposals with public and private providers about maintaining a service on the historic site, but without success.
The reason for the closure of Maryborough was that in recent years the hospital has become increasingly financially non-viable due to a number of complex issues, including the move of the vast majority of medical specialists to Hervey Bay.
UnitingCare Health continues to work with interested parties to explore uses for the vacated campus.