A 24-hour accident and emergency centre based in Pāpāmoa could be a reality for residents thanks to the hard work and dedication of one widow.
Judy Killalea's husband died on September 24, 2016, soon after he decided the 25-minute drive from Pāpāmoa to Tauranga Hospital was too far and he would wait until the morning.
He suffered from a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease for several years, then was diagnosed with cancer.
Killalea, who lives in Pāpāmoa East, launched a petition in July 2018 calling for an after-hours A&E medical centre and after two long years, Parliament's health committee have made their recommendations.
While the committee recognised the Bay of Plenty District Health Board was compliant in delivering its service coverage schedule set by the Ministry of Health, due to the availability of Tauranga Hospital and the Second Avenue Health facilities, it was also aware of the population growth.
The service coverage schedule states the Primary Health Organisation must provide after-hours urgent care services to 95 per cent of its enrolled population within a 60-minute travel time.
Since 2014 the demand for emergency department services has increased by 37 per cent for Pāpāmoa adults and 20 per cent for children, according to the ministry.
In light of this, the committee wrote they were concerned the schedule may fail to fully take into account the unmet need for services.
"In the case of Pāpāmoa, it appears the community may be using the hospital as the default after-hours provider, potentially taking resources away from more urgent cases.
"In this context, strengthening the capacity of after-hours facilities in the community may be a more efficient alternative, thereby taking the strain off hospital A&E departments."
Killalea said she was excited for the community's future.
"Knowing that something is getting investigated again is wonderful news for not only Pāpāmoa residents but also Te Puke residents and less workload on Second Ave and hospital staff."
She now was urging a developer to come forward and fast-track her dream.
"I see an urgency for it to happen; It is needed now not in two to five years' time."
While the recommendation was still fresh and needed to be considered by the entire health board, DHB chief executive Pete Chandler said demand overnight for accident and emergency services from Pāpāmoa was low but he was committed to an optimal solution for the community.
He said data collected by the DHB demonstrated there was a need for an after-hours facility in the evening and weekend hours as opposed to a 24-hour arrangement.
Despite this view, the DHB was working with the Western Bay of Plenty primary health organisation and other parties, including developers, on how to increase access to after-hours healthcare, in the mid to longer-term, Chandler confirmed.
"This is likely to be in the form of an extended after-hours healthcare facility as opposed to a 24-hour, free, accident and emergency department. A two to three-year timeframe is envisaged."
Chandler agreed an after-hours facility would reduce the number of non-urgent presentations at the hospital.
"The Tauranga ED can be close to reaching its maximum capacity at times of high volume and therefore it's the right time to be having discussions around service expansion in the most appropriate way for the community."