In the 1930s, Altona was well known as a holiday and fishing village. Following WW1, a steady influx of families moved into Altona and the population grew. In 1928, the Werribee Shire appointed Dr Louis Joel of Newport as the medical officer of Altona. At that time, with no trained nurses or midwives, home births were the norm, and maternal deaths and puerperal fever were not uncommon.
Dr Joel strove to introduce modern healthcare and education to Altona, including the model of the bush nursing hospital, where local rather than state money was used to build and maintain a not-for-profit hospital with a resident community nurse. Many residents gave donations of a penny a week and with other local fundraising, the first hospital was opened on 3 Dec 1932 at an old house in Pier Street North where the petrol station is now located. You can find a commemorative stone memorial and plaque there.
Dr Joel had successfully encouraged Sister Ivy Weber to become the hospital’s first nurse. She was trained in medical, surgical and midwifery nursing and had agreed to transfer her equipment and furniture from her own private hospital to the Altona Hospital.
The hospital steadily attracted more subscribers and Dr Joel had negotiated a low interest loan from the James Charitable Trust to build a new brick hospital on the current Sargood Street site. This hospital, which could accommodate outpatient areas, 10 inpatients, 2 staff members and facilities for providing maternity and infant services, opened in Feb 1938. Dr Joel was the president and remained associated with the hospital until probably the mid 1950s.
From the 1940s to 1950s, the hospital was managed by a community-based Board of Management. It expanded into a 25 bed maternity hospital, with numerous extensions and a nurse’s quarters to meet the demands of a booming population brought about by post war immigration and industrialization of Altona.
Due to changing requirements of government health funding, small community-owned hospitals became financially unviable. In the late 1950s, Altona Hospital gave up its autonomy and ownership to the Hospitals and Charities Commission, later the Department of Health and then the Western Health Network. In 1996 as part of the rationalisation occurring throughout the public health system, the Altona Hospital was closed after giving 64 years of service to this community.
Acknowledgement – I wish to thank Louis Joel Arts & Community Centre for providing the materials and photographs.