29 June 2023

Social enterprise breathes life into Eden medical clinic at risk of closing

| Albert McKnight
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Bendigo Bank has donated $60,000 to Creators of Community Ownership

Bendigo Bank has donated $60,000 to Creators of Community Ownership. Photo: David Rogers Photography.

It can be hard to find a doctor in a regional area. But, fortunately for the people in the Far South Coast town of Eden, a social enterprise has stepped in to save a clinic in their community that was in danger of closing.

Creators of Community Ownership will be taking over the ownership and management of the Curalo Medical Clinic this October.

April Merrick, who co-founded Creators with Belinda Morris, said the owner and GP of the clinic, who has been there for 30 years, had been looking to retire for some time.

“It’s really difficult to sell GP clinics in regional areas, especially Eden which is so far south and is classified as an almost remote area under some classifications,” she said.

She said they chose Eden for their social enterprise as it was the town with the highest priority that they could see. The clinic has 5000 people on the books, she said.

“If Curalo closed, Eden would have lost a vital service and local people left without the healthcare they deserve,” she said.

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Ms Merrick said she and Ms Morris set up Creators last year and approached Curalo’s GP and asked if he would transition to them as a social enterprise, which involves the profits going back to supporting the clinic.

Creators went through the Bega Valley Innovation Hub’s iAccelerate program and during the process its founders investigated why it was difficult to sell medical clinics in regional areas.

Ms Merrick said that often when a GP bought a clinic, they became the practising doctor as well as the business owner.

“So we thought … why can’t we step in and be that business person and let doctors be doctors?” she said.

Creators was recently given a boost from Bendigo Bank Pambula and Bega, which donated $60,000 to ensure the people of Eden can maintain access to vital medical services.

“This is a milestone donation for us and our first towards keeping a vital medical service afloat,” Tim Shepherd, the chair of Community Bank Pambula and District, said.

Ms Merrick said the donation would ensure Creators had the best chance of success.

“Without this donation from Bendigo Bank Pambula and Bega, we simply wouldn’t have been able to get this social enterprise up and running so soon,” she said.

“We are committed to improving health outcomes in the community and taking ownership of the Curalo Medical Clinic is the first step in that journey.

“This funding is really a lifeline for us to make sure we can keep this clinic going.”

She said her aim was to make the Curalo clinic a proof of concept, to show how communities could take ownership of their assets.

If they were able to create a template, she said, then maybe they could help other communities in similar situations.

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Ms Merrick said Curalo’s staff would all stay when Creators took over the clinic and they were about to launch a campaign to attract a new doctor to their area so the current GP could retire.

She said attracting a new doctor to a regional area was about more than just the money and once they arrived they needed to be supported in the community to keep them around.

“It’s really a lifestyle and you have to pitch the lifestyle to whoever they are bringing – their family, their partner,” she said.

“Basically, doctors leave because their partners can’t find jobs or they can’t find something they want to stay for.

“We believe our business model is not only sustainable but also helps empower the community to shape and contribute to the health services they need.”

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