With cramped office spaces, a lack of wheelchair ramps and the carpark doubling as a dental moulding room, Armajun Aboriginal Health Service staff can't wait for work to begin on their new $4.7 million building.
The service is currently finalising designs for the purpose-built centre, which has already received development approval from the Inverell Shire Council. A $2.35 million federal government grant will help fund the building. With construction expected to begin before the end of the year, the new centre could be ready by early 2021.
"We've been here since 2011. It's OK, but it's not really fit for purpose. Downstairs we've done a lot of renovations, but we've renovated it all that we can, and it's a rabbit warren," chief executive officer Debbie McCowen said of the current centre.
She said Armajun had been lucky to find such a convenient location, but had outgrown the rented space. The upstairs area has limited use due to a lack of accessibility for patients and, because they are not purpose-built, several consultation rooms have awkward layouts.
"The new building for Armajun AHS will be beneficial to both staff and patients as it will add much needed space and accessibility to the health care that we can offer our patients," registered nurse Tara Price said.
"The new centre will enable us to try to reduce the impact of early mortality on the current and next generation of Aboriginal people in our community."
Dental services are currently limited to a small office with two desks for a dental manager, two dentists, two dental assistants and an oral health therapist. Staff are looking forward to having a two chair dental clinic as well as a new sterilisation room to create mouth guards and dentures - which are currently made in the carpark due to space limitations.
The new space also promises a gym, children's area, an outside meeting area and 10 consultation rooms for both in-house and visiting medical professionals.
"We've been limited by the number of doctors we've been able to have, because of the size of the current building," Ms McCowen said.
"We've got about 3500-4000 clients who use Armajun. And there's a lot of services. We have the medical clinic, the dental clinic, we have the drug and alcohol service, we have a mental health service." With an exercise physiologist for the gym and visiting specialists ranging from paediatricians to ear, nose and throat specialists to optometrists; Ms McCowen said there's often "a lot of traffic".
She hopes the new space might attract more permanent general practitioners, and says it will allow Armajun to expand their services. "This makes the service more sustainable and viable into the future."