It was labelled a white elephant early on, by a former Labor chief minister no less, but now the temporary COVID-19 Surge Centre is ready and waiting. And health chiefs hope it stays that way.
The $10.5 million facility on Garran Oval, with another $3.5 million worth of equipment and supplies thrown in, was commissioned from local health services company Aspen Medical when COVID-19 posed a much greater threat than it does now.
If it does go live there is another $9 million in the bag to staff and run it through the winter when the flu season usually puts Canberra’s hospital system under the hammer.
With no new cases for some time and restrictions easing, it would be easy to say in hindsight that the ACT Government panicked and millions of dollars later, and Garran without its playing fields, the bespoke coronavirus ED is now a testament to bureaucratic waste and overkill.
While unofficial opposition leader Jon Stanhope’s critique that it would never have been needed if the government had invested in the health system and Canberra Hospital as originally intended has some merit, to suggest the government got it wrong on the surge centre when it is far from clear that Australia and the ACT is out of the woods when it comes to this virus would be churlish.
Faced with what was happening, and is still happening overseas, and modelling that showed the scale of the disaster if tough action was not taken, our governments actions should be celebrated considering where we are now.
Part of that was the decision to take out the insurance policy of having enough medical capacity to cope with the number of COVID-19 cases the ACT might face.
Even as we move to open up the economy, the risks remain that the virus will return and, combined with the flu, put our EDs and hospital wards under pressure.
For those gung-ho about returning to normal, the warnings about a second or more wave are still being sounded.
We may have dodged a bullet so far but in this most unpredictable of years no one knows what may come next.
Some consolation to the bean counters should be that the surge centre is now an ACT asset that when the crisis passes can be disassembled, stored, rolled out quickly if needed again and adapted for whatever health threat is looming, and who can say that won’t happen after what has transpired?
For the residents of Garran, losing the oval for a time must grate but health officials had sound reasons for siting it there and it is time for them to accept the fact that they live next to the ACT’s biggest medical campus, and that will always have implications for them, whether that be ambulance traffic or helicopters flying overhead.
The government has reiterated that the facility is temporary and the oval will be remediated.
Whatever happens, the surge centre is an impressive piece of work that also gives Canberra Health Services valuable experience in pandemic crisis management.
As insurance policies go, it is worth it.