Mental health groups make play for Warburton Hospital

Healthcare groups pooling funds to but for the old Warburton Hospital are among four buyers short-listed for the property. Picture: Jake Nowakowski
Healthcare groups pooling funds to but for the old Warburton Hospital are among four buyers short-listed for the property. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

Mental health organisations are pooling their resources in a bid to buy a mothballed hospital amid fears Victoria won’t cope with a looming mental health crisis.

The groups have warned they don’t believe the state has the infrastructure needed after a disastrous start to 2020 with large parts of Victoria burned by bushfires and the economy smashed by COVID-19.

Headed by Enveco Association Inc president and trauma specialist Moniquea Spiteri, they are hoping to make the former Warburton Hospital a world-class trauma recovery and mental wellbeing centre.

“This is about putting Warburton on the map as a world-class and leading-edge trauma recovery centre,” Spiteri says.

“And we want to do the right thing by the residents of Warburton, so we want to reopen their hospital.”

Enveco has been offered thousands of dollars by smaller organisations, such as suicide support group Second Steps, to revive the site, with fears mental health care providers will still be grappling with the fallout from 2020 in five or even 10 years time.

“They aren’t big players with government resources, they are little guys chipping in with $8000 or so,” Spiteri says.

The hospital’s entry hall connects the emergency department and wards with rooms once used by guests enjoying the famed Warburton Hydrotherapy Centre. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

Psychotherapies delivered at the site aimed at helping the body overcome issues with the mind would include skills-based training in gardening, maintenance and even carpentry on site to help those struggling with their mental health to find new ways to cope.

“We aren’t talking about the severely unwell, we are talking about the people in the middle who are too afraid of ending up in a psych ward to seek help,” Ms Spiteri said.

In addition to members of bushfire affected communities and those who lost employment due to COVID-19 restrictions, she also expected they would work with returned soldiers, with a goal of keeping them from entering into traditional mental health care hospital beds.

Interlinked buildings already feature guest-style accommodation. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

Their plans could also see a helipad reinstated at the site so critically injured patients could be stabilised before being flown to emergency departments in the city.

The hospital is being sold by investors at the Bernardo Group who have maintained the 25 Donna Buang Rd property, including operating theatres and 8ha of grounds, despite it having closed more than a decade ago.

CBRE director Sandro Peluso is handling the sale and said four buyers had been short-listed for the old Warburton Hospital, which was expected to sell in the low-mid $20 million range.

A variety of services run from the hospital in the past could be resurrected for vocational therapies in the future. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

“Final bids will be entered by the end of June,” Peluso says.

In the meantime, a four-storey medical centre attached to Geelong Private Hospital was poised to trump the Warburton Hospital as the biggest medical property sale of 2020.

With expectations of a sale north of $30 million, Peluso says the Geelong site was “the most significant healthcare asset to hit the market this year”.

The Geelong Private Medical Centre at 73-79 Little Ryrie St, Geelong, has been listed for sale.

But while such properties were in high demand with private buyers, he had received no direct approaches from the government on any healthcare properties this year.

“These properties have held their value and will only become more appealing,” Peluso says.

This article from The Herald Sun originally appeared as “Warburton Hospital: Mental health groups pool funds to bid for site”.