The Atoifi Adventist Hospital in the Solomon Islands - run by former Ipswich nurse Peggy Kendall.
The Atoifi Adventist Hospital in the Solomon Islands - run by former Ipswich nurse Peggy Kendall. file

The little hospital that Ipswich built

FROM her tropical island outpost in the Solomons, former Ipswich nurse Peggy Kendall is doing more than just saving the lives of the locals.

Through the magic of medical know-how and a lot of hard work, "Miss Peggy" is bringing the worshippers of God and The Devil together as one.

It has been almost four years since Ms Kendall took over as CEO of the Atoifi Adventist Hospital on the island of Malaita - a solid 12-hour boat journey from the capital of Honiara in the Solomon Islands.

The run down medical facility has come an awfully long way since Ms Kendall quit her job as a nursing manager at the Mater Hospital to embark on the exciting new role in one of the world's wildest and remotest places.

The CEO has relied on her Ipswich connections to secure donations of vital medical equipment, supplies and medical volunteers to drastically improve the hospital.

Ms Kendall's husband Ron Hockey has been the rock throughout the process - putting in hours of work to help get the hospital looking better inside and out.

A map showing the location of the island of Malaita.
A map showing the location of the island of Malaita.

In a few months, another significant milestone will arrive, with the hospital to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Ms Kendall said she was hoping that the opening of a new dental unit would coincide with the milestone on August 26.

"It's a huge achievement," Ms Kendall said during a recent break back in her home town.

"There are not many hospitals in the Pacific that have been around for that long The new dental clinic will be funded by a group of Sydney dentists and it is a huge thing for the local area. At the moment, it is a five-hour trip to the nearest dental clinic.

"As a result there are a lot of rotten teeth. All of the chiefs are happy that they'll be able to finally get their teeth fixed."

While Sydney is chipping in for the dental unit, Ipswich people have played a huge role in securing life-saving equipment elsewhere in the hospital, with a list of contributors too long to include in this story.

Rotary Ipswich donated a defibrillator in 2015 and staff at Atoifi used it to save a life in February this year.

St Andrew's Hospital donated a neo-natal resuscitation cot that was used to bring a baby back to life on the day it arrived.

LEFT: The old neo-natal resuscitation cot that was used at the hospital and (left) the new one donated by St Andrew’s Hospital recently.
LEFT: The old neo-natal resuscitation cot that was used at the hospital and (left) the new one donated by St Andrew’s Hospital recently.

Retired doctors and nurses from Ipswich routinely travel to the hospital to volunteer, while an Ipswich pharmacy worker has been making up gift packs for hospital employee of the month winner.

Atoifi is a 72-bed hospital with maternity ward, emergency, general patients, high-dependency unit, operating theatre and the country's only tuberculosis ward.

Servicing an island of 188,000 people, the hospital survives on a small budget of $3000 a month, which supports 70 regular staff and about 70 student nurses.

The workforce, comprising of Solomon locals apart from the CEO, is responsible for satellite clinics, which require nurses to hike for several days into the mountains to conduct health checks on bush people.

As well as a dental clinic, work is underway on transit units for travelling doctors.

Ms Kendall, who has just signed another one-year contract as CEO, said the support the City of Ipswich has given to the hospital was saving the lives of islanders and also helping to bring people together.

Supplies are delivered to the remote island by barge, which locals sometimes block and demand a ransom.
Supplies are delivered to the remote island by barge, which locals sometimes block and demand a ransom.

She said there had been a traditional divide between the Christians and the devil worshippers up in the mountains, but the walls were slowly breaking down and the bush people were beginning to trust the hospital and its staff to help them in their time of need.

"I can see the positive change in the attitudes of the bush people just in the time I've been there," she said.

"They see it as their hospital now.

"I was the first white female to go into the village with the devil priest, which is a big privilege."

The devil chiefs even threatened to break the limbs of the village drunkard, after he harassed Miss Peggy a few times.

"That's how they deal with things over there," she said.

"I don't really think it is dangerous.

"You have to put it into perspective; in 50 years there have only been two incidents (where the Atoifi Hospital CEOs were murdered by locals - one speared to death and one beheaded) - that's a pretty good run. Sometimes I feel more scared coming back to Australia."

To donate to the hospital, contact Peggy Kendall on 0407 195 964 or email peggykendall9@gmail.com.

A group of local bushmen on the island.
A group of local bushmen on the island.


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