Viral Facebook post raises funds for rural hospital

A country hospital has nearly $28,000 in extra funds after a Facebook post about a local doctor’s concern for the lack of funding for rural hospitals went viral.

The daughter of Dr Peter Barker, from the small town in Cohuna, near the Murray River in northern Victoria, has catapulted the fundraising efforts of the community after she posted her father’s letter to the local newspaper on her own Facebook page.

“I really can’t believe that one Facebook post turned into $26,000; social media is so powerful,” Holly Barker said.

It began when her doctor father, also a visiting medical officer at Cohuna Hospital, wrote an amusing but concerned letter to the local newspaper questioning the State Government’s funding of penguins over rural hospitals.

He drew attention to the government’s recent funding injection of $250,000 towards 1,000 vulnerable penguins at the St Kilda Marina and to the repeated, but ignored, requests from Cohuna Hospital for the replacement of broken medical equipment.

“Of course penguins are important, but we worked it out that each of the 1,000 penguins got $250 per head and each rural person in the Cohuna district was allocated three dollars,” Dr Barker said.

He ended his letter wishing he was a penguin.

Dr Barker said the hospital needed an upgrade to their cardiac defibrillator at a cost of $7,000 and an anaesthetic machine at a cost of up to $40,000 depending on the model purchased.

“We’ve always gone for the cheapest form of equipment, because that’s all we could afford; we may very well be able to get a good one, which is going to last a few years,” Dr Barker said.

Daughter fed up

Ms Barker said she was “fed up” with watching her father write letters over the years with little impact and turned to social media in the hope of reaching friends.

After she posted the letter on her Facebook page, it was shared over 1,000 times.

“I’m absolutely dumbfounded that suddenly 200,000 people have seen her message,” Dr Barker said.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Health Minister said the Cohuna Hospital had not requested Victorian Government funding for the cardiac defibrillator.

The State Government added the hospital already had four functioning defibrillators and had advised the Department of Health and Human Services that a replacement of the anaesthetic machine was not a priority.

Donations from far and wide

Following the Facebook post, the campaign was given a boost after ex-local Kane Church saw it and decided to take matters into his own hands.

Not even his mother, the practice manger of the local medical clinic, knew about his work.

He set up an online fundraising page and managed to raise $12,500 in six hours and at the time of writing, it was almost at $28,000.

Many donations have come from locals, including an elderly woman who knocked on Ms Barker’s door offering to donate money in the absence of a computer.

But Ms Barker said many donations had also come from people as far away as Tasmania and New South Wales.

As amazed as Dr Barker is by the incredible attention his letter has received on social media, he is quick to point out the Cohuna community’s long history with fundraising, which includes a local women’s group having just raised $7,000 blood analysis machine.

The hospital is currently using a taxi to send their blood samples to the Kerang Hospital, 30 kilometres away.

“It’s always been that in small towns like this, the funds for the equipment have come from the community and the health department’s been very grateful, but I don’t think it’s been included in hospital budgets,” Dr Barker said.

He said little towns like Cohuna were used to being ignored.

“We live on a dirt road in a town that’s got a non-fluoridated water supply and with very little public transport,” he said.

Dr Barker’s concern is that the government is not distributing funds equally.

“We’ve been in safe country seat, we’ve never had much money spent on us. I think if we were in a marginal seat, we might have a lot more money spent here,” Dr Barker said.

The Government said it was working with Cohuna Hospital to determine what additional equipment may be required in the future.