In February 2011 the city of Christchurch in New Zealand was hit by a devastating earthquake that killed 181 people, rendered nearly 20,000 home uninhabitable, and has led to demolition of 70% of the buildings in the central business district. What the news agencies don’t report is that an earthquake is not a single event. Major aftershocks continued to cause damage more than a year after the big quake. Insurance assessments for damaged buildings have to be repeated, again and again, so the work of rebuilding is endlessly stalled. Fractured roads, pipes, bridges and powerlines are carefully restored then broken all over again. To add insult to injury, recent heavy rain caused extensive flooding – all the ground levels have shifted. It’s a traumatised city.
Yet within the ruins of the city we witness extraordinary acts of generosity and community building. One organisation affected by the earthquake was the Canterbury Charity Hospital. The brainchild of a local general surgeon, Philip Bagshaw, the hospital opened its doors in 2007.
The hospital was first established by converting an historic villa into a day surgical unit, using funds raised by the community, and staffed entirely by volunteers. Although New Zealand has a comprehensive public hospital service, some patients fall through the cracks. The hospital provides free care to those in the community who cannot access care through the public or private health systems.
After the major earthquake in 2011, the hospital had to suspend services. One of their urgent tasks was to set up temporary counseling services to help those traumatised by the quake. But rather than be discouraged by the difficulties caused by the quake, the hospital trust re-doubled its efforts and raised funds for a major expansion of services.
On their website, they report:
The Canterbury Charity Hospital is now into its 7th year at its headquarters in Bishopdale. Following the recent major building expansion after the Christchurch earthquakes the hospital has increased both its size and its services substantially. In 2014 in particular we expect to significantly increase the number of colonoscopies carried out, as well as increase those services relating to women’s health.
The existing day surgery facility (renamed the East wing) continues to cater for increased numbers of General and Gynaecological surgery referrals along with other minor surgery and outpatient services.
The new hospital wing (The West Wing) provides additional consulting rooms, a second theatre, a dental surgery, a large lecture room and endoscopy suite.
Apart from a small clinical management crew of 1 full time and 2 part time staff, the hospitals 280 plus staff remain unpaid volunteers. As well as a host of specialist doctors and nurses the volunteers also include technical staff, support workers such as accountants, receptionists and fundraisers.
Another large group within the volunteer work force are our 36 volunteer dentists and their 26 dental nurses. They provide dental care for WINZ beneficiaries who both qualify and are referred from dentists around the region.
Charity begins at home. In a healthcare service overwhelmed with patient needs and lack of resources, it’s inspiring to learn from these leaders what can be done with compassion and generosity.