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Happy Anniversary, Wolper

October 9, 2011 by Henry Benjamin Read on for article Sydney’s Wolper Jewish Hospital is celebrating 50 years of serving the community.The original NSW Jewish hospital in Point Piper,  Sydney was founded in 1947 by the Young Men’s Hebrew Association in conjunction with the NSW Fellowship of Jewish Doctors and the National Council of Jewish Women.The large home had been the headquarters of the YMHA and plans were made in 1948 to redevelop it into a fully equipped hospital with plans for an operating theatre, labour ward, an outpatients’ department and residential facilities for nursing staff. The organisers could not stimulate sufficient interest within the community and the concept ultimately fell through.In June 1954, the hospital closed its doors but discussions were initiated on a merger with the Wolper Convalescent House. A building in Coogee had been bequeathed in 1949 to the NSW Jewish Hospital for use as a hospital or convalescent home by Gertie Stone in honour of her first husband Aaron Wolper.The site was deemed unsuitable for a convalescent home and the trustees of the National Council of Jewish Women sold the the property using the funds to buy the current property in Trelawney Street, Woollahra. But the new Home quickly ran into financial trouble with the banks threatening to foreclose on their mortgage.With the funds raised from the sale of the properties in Point Piper, it seemed a timely opportunity for the hospital management to join forces with the cash-strappedWolper Convalescent House.  The NSW Jewish Hospital had cash in the bank but no hospital. Wolper Convalescent House had the property but no cash.In 1959, a new entity known as the Wolper & NSW Jewish Hospitals was launched and the Wolper Jewish Hospital was officially opened in 1961 by the NSW Minister for Health WF Sheahan. An operating theatre  and new surgical wing were added with the wing being dedicated to Dr Fanny Reading, a NCJW leader and one of the founders of the NSW Jewish Hospital. Wolper began its life as a Jewish hospital with one operating theatre and 37 beds. The hospital was a financial success. In 1982, the hospital shut down for 18 months, reopening with 14 more beds and a new operating theatre. In 1991, an adjoining property was bought, expanding the number of beds by 20 and introducing a palliative care unit. By 1993, Wolper boasted 71 beds and two operating theatres.In 1998, Wolper acquired the Rehabilitation License of the defunct Scottish Hospital in Paddington and by 2002 a successful rehabilitation unit had been established including a hydrotherapy pool.But in 2000, Wolper found itself going down the trail of financial problems yet again with losses incurred from insufficient use of the operating facilities. The theatres were closed in 2002 and leased to an opthalmic day surgery unit. When the opthalmic unit failed to renew its lease, the premises were available once again to Wolper, who converted them into a larger rehabilitation unit. In 2010 NSW Governor Marie Bashir opened the rebuilt hospital.Today Wolper is booming….and the demand is not restricted to the Jewish community. The rehabilitation unit is one of choice of many of Sydney’s leading surgeons. The hospital also runs hydrotherapy exercise sessions open to the public with many ex-inpatients making use of the state of the art facility. The hydrotherapy pool is named after Sam Karpin who served the hospital as its president for 25 years.Wolper Jewish Hospital CEO Harry Aizenberg told J-Wire: “The transformation to a major rehab unit has seen the hospital in demand as never before in its history. Since we closed the theatres, we looked at what community demand is and now in the thirty years I have been associated with it, Wolper is at its busiest.” Aizenberg added that Wolper has been non-denominational and “open to anyone” since its inception.Breaking down its current usage Aizenberg said that 22 beds were medical and 32 beds rehabilitation and that not all the medical beds were restricted to palliative care. He described the medical unit as dealing with “non-surgical interventions and a definite no to  the reintroduction of operative facilities”.Talking of the future, Aizenberg sees Wolper moving into other areas and plans are underway for the hospital to expand its activities in its currently highly successful community programs. Wolper hosts panel discussion groups discussing health matters of interest to most members of the community.For the last 15 years, Wolper has sponsored the Tay-Sachs program. Aizenberg said: “Each year we go to the Jewish high schools with our genetic screening program. We see all the year 11 students. There is an education program and we talk about the inheritance of genes. We offer a mouth swab test and we test those who decide with their families to participate. The Tay-Sachs carrier rate in the Sydney Jewish Ashkenazy community is one in 28 meaning that one pupil in every class could be a carrier of Tay-Sachs disease.” Aizenberg added: “If proven positive, it won’t affect their health, but it will affect their children if both parents are carriers.”At a function held to celebrate the anniversary, Wolper president Dr David Golovsky said: “During the next decade there will  be greater demands on the Wolper as the baby boomers reach their 8th decade. We  will not be resting on our laurels and have a strategic plan in  place to meet the specific needs of this ageing population”.Wolper launched an updated history of the hospital at the event and opened an exhibition on the story of the Wolper Jewish Hospital at the Sydney Jewish Museum.

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