Westmead Hospital saw an average of 150 patients when it opened; now it sees thousands. (Supplied: Western Sydney Local Health District)
Walking through the neurological ward at Westmead Hospital, nurse Joanne Merkelbach is touched with a sense of nostalgia.
This was the ward to which she was assigned when she started working at Westmead in 1978.
“In those days it was a mixed medical/surgical unit,” Ms Merkelbach said.
“It looks very different, the [computer carts] didn’t exist in my day.”
Joanne Merkelbach started working at the hospital in 1978 and is now a unit manager. (ABC Sydney: Amanda Hoh)
The computer carts are powered workstations on wheels that allow medical staff to update patient notes on the go.
“We were lucky to even have a terminal on the desk to enter where our patients were being accommodated, and they were screens with gold writing on it,” she recalled.
From a few hundred patients to thousands
Much has changed in the 40 years since Westmead Hospital opened.
In November 1978 the medical staff was small and close-knit and there was no emergency or intensive care unit.
Seriously ill patients were transferred to Parramatta District Hospital.
Westmead is now a major trauma hospital, although last month its ICU was stripped of its training accreditation following bullying and harassment allegations.
Technology and medical procedures have advanced considerably and the hospital sees thousands of patients a day, compared to its first year which saw an average of 150 per day.
The nurses — once dressed in a white tunic with a crisp collar and topped with a white triangular cap — now wear simple navy scrubs.
The hospital was opened by premier Neville Wran on November 10, 1978. (Supplied: Western Sydney Local Health District)
No smoking but more complex diseases
The current auditorium and study area was once the cafeteria and smokers’ hub, back when smoking indoors was the norm.
“There’s a lot more complexity for the nurses these days,” Ms Merkelbach, now a unit manager, said.
“Patients in those days would come in with just one disease; now we are seeing people with co-morbidities.”
Other things haven’t changed.
“I think the lino here is the same,” Ms Merkelbach pointed out in one corridor.
On Saturday, Westmead Hospital will mark its 40th anniversary with an open day that includes a display of memorabilia, historical nursing uniforms and tours of the clinical school.
There will also be virtual tours of the planned $900 million redevelopment of the hospital.
First baby for Westmead almost born in elevator
Joining the celebrations will be Ann English and her daughter Bianca Brisbourne, who was the first baby born in the maternity ward when it opened in April 1979.
Bianca Brisbourne was born eight weeks premature in the hospital’s new maternity wing in 1979. (Supplied: Bianca Brisbourne/WSLHD)
“I wasn’t due to be born for two months,” Ms Brisbourne said.
“My mum was having some complications with her pregnancy and they rushed her over from Parramatta to Westmead pretty much as the doors opened.
“I came almost in the elevator, so it was a quick dash to the delivery room so I came out in a blaze of glory.”
The hospital’s anniversary events will take place from 10:00am to 3:00pm.