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The Changing Face of the Foundation

July 20, 2017

Since it was an idea, sparked during a 1987 meeting in Michael Rich's loungeroom, the Skin & Cancer Foundation Inc has had four different homes - each with its own quirks, tales, and contribution to local, national and international dermatology.

 

Now located on the corner of Drummond and Queensberry Streets in a purpose-built, world-class facility, those who have been with the Foundation since the beginning can only be astounded by how far it has come.

 

"The initial situation was quite rocky," said Foundation Member and current President of the Skin & Cancer Foundation Inc, Dr Michael Rich.

 

"All of us were uncertain about what to expect, we were working pro bono and then, in the first six months, some money disappeared, which made things even more difficult. Despite all of this, it did feel like an exciting new adventure. We had high ambitions but weren't sure where we would end up."

 

St Andrew's Place 

Mid-1987 - January 1991 

 

In 1991, the Foundation took up residence at 12 St Andrew's Place, East Melbourne, which was part of the old St Andrew's Hospital - in the attic of St Andrew's Hospital to be more specific.

 

"We didn't have much money and the rooms at St Andrew's Hospital were all that we could afford," said Dr Rich.

 

"We told them that if they gave us a cheap price we would send them our patients. It didn't necessarily work out that way."

 

Barbara Woosey, who has been visiting the Foundation for over 27 years for psoriasis treatment, is one of the few current patients to have received treatment at St Andrew's Place.

 

"I remember loving that first building," Ms Woosey said.

 

"It was inappropriate as a hospital but very beautiful."

 

Ms Woosey said despite her dermatologist, Peter Sinclair's, glowing reports about its consultants and treatment methods, it took her a while to adjust to the peculiar place that was the Foundation.

 

"You used to have to use the back entrance to the Hospital and climb all these stairs," Ms Woosey said.

 

"Once you were up there - if you could make it up there - you had to go into this enormous room and hop in a giant treatment bath, which had little cast iron claw feet. It was very strange."

 

Ms Woosey said that when she thinks about the Foundation in the late 1980s, she is amazed by how far it has come.

 

"The biggest improvement has to be its facilities," Ms Woosey said.

 

"The continuity of care has also improved and everything is more organised and efficient, but it's hard not to be amazed by how much the buildings have changed. Especially when you think about those first rooms in East Melbourne." 

 

Dodgshun House 

15 January 1991 - May 1994

 

After three uncertain but exciting years at St Andrew's Place, in 1991 the Foundation relocated to Dodgshun House.

 

Melbourne architect, Mr Steve Ashton, was called in to inspect the new site.

 

Dodgshun House, designed by Hyndman & Bates, is a grand Victorian Italianate-style house, built in 1865. It remains one of the few mansions at the city end of Brunswick Street.

 

Formerly known as "Edensor", Dodgshun House was the birthplace of Mary MacKillop, canonised by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 as Australia's first saint. Shortly after her birth there in 1842, Mary's father sold the property to Jonathan Binns Were, the Founder of what is now the prominent financial services and wealth management company JBWere. 

 

The Foundation had a lot of work to do to contribute to such rich social, historical and architectural significance.

 

"After a couple of years, we decided St Andrew's wasn't adequate for our needs," said Dr Rich.

 

"We found Dodgshun House, which was owned by the Eye and Ear Hospital and they saw synergy between us and them, so we were able to get it for a cheap price."

 

Dr Rich said the Foundation went through a particularly tentative period of time after the move to the new building.

 

"The only reason the Foundation survived was because of our pathology service, which was supported by nearly every dermatologist in Victoria," said Dr Rich.

 

"It's very important to note this in the Foundation's history."

 

Like its time at St Andrew's Place, the Foundation quickly outgrew Dodgshun House and was soon on the hunt for a new location. 

 

Learn more about the rich history of Dodgshun House

 

Rathdowne Street 

May 1994 - November 2008

 

In 1994, the Foundation moved to 95 Rathdowne Street, after inspecting almost 30 buildings around Melbourne.

 

Choosing the right building was a vital task, as nobody wanted to have to move after three or four years all over again.

 

"We looked at a lot of buildings before settling on Rathdowne Street," said Dr Rich.

 

"At first we just rented half the building but, after a bit of time, we managed to hire the whole thing." 

 

The Foundation experienced a substantial period of growth during its time at Rathdowne Street however, Ms Woosey said it was not a very memorable space.

 

"While St Andrew's was beautiful, Dodgshun was grand, and Drummond Street is modern and world-class, there was nothing all that memorable about the building at Rathdowne Street," Ms Woosey said.

 

"It was just another building, with rather uncomfortable chairs in the waiting room."

 

Although the building was fairly unremarkable to many of its patients, it was at Rathdowne Street that the Foundation really began to establish as a centre for excellence and the home for dermatology in Victoria.

 

In the mid-90s, the Foundation became the first hospital in Victoria to offer Mohs' Surgery to patients.

 

Throughout 1993, Associate Professor Greg Goodman had been frequently travelling to Sydney to complete his Mohs' training. By the end of the year, the Foundation was holding its first Mohs' sessions for patients.

 

While at Rathdowne Street, many of the Foundation's dermatologists honed their Mohs' skills and set the standard in this most-effective form of skin cancer removal.

 

The Foundation's reputation as a centre of excellence was also spreading around the world, with many international doctors, who were eager to undertake training at Rathdowne Street, getting in contact with the Foundation.

 

After five years of operation and significant growth clearly ahead, the Committee Members decided the Foundation must have control of its own space, so purchased the Rathdowne Street building.

 

"Buying the building at Rathdowne Street ended up being a very fortuitous and important decision in the history of the Foundation," said Associate Professor Goodman.

 

"After a few years, the building next door came up for sale off-market and we managed to purchase it at a very good price. Then a developer offered an equivalent price for our Rathdowne Street building."

 

The Foundation had struck a great deal, getting a much larger and more suitable building for the same price that they received on the sale of Rathdowne Street.

 

"Shortly after the sale, the Government changed the laws, so no building could be taller than the Exhibition Building across the road," said Associate Professor Goodman.

 

"If the developer had been aware of this we would never have received such a good price."

 

A stroke of luck after the last two decades of uncertainty, challenges and change.

 

Drummond Street 

November 2008 - present 

In late 2008 the Foundation settled into its new Drummond Street home - an exciting event for all of its consultants, staff and patients.

 

The new and current location of the Foundation provides three times the floor space of the Rathdowne Street building, allowing the Foundation to substantially increase its clinical, surgical, teaching, and research activities, with all the increased efficiencies of a purpose-build facility. 

 

"Acquiring our present site has been very successful for all at the Foundation," said Dr Rich.

 

"It has enabled us to develop significantly and to plan further growth into the future." 

 

Last financial year over 29,000 patients were treated in the Foundation's 28 sub-specialty clinics. This year, the Foundation also introduced services to paediatric patients, and its Vitiligo Clinic became the first in Victoria to offer an innovative skin grafting technique for this disfiguring skin condition.

 

The Foundation has found another home for itself online. Its website is visited nearly 7,000 times each month and most of its education sessions are webcast through a secure online channel, available to all Australian dermatologists and registrars. Recordings of the webcasts are then filed in the Foundation's online library for later research and education. 

 

"As the Foundation continues to increase its patient numbers, provide professional and public education, and lead dermatology research, the online space it occupies will become as important as its world-class facilities," said Executive Director of the Foundation, Chris Arnold. 

 

"The Foundation's national and international contribution is a great tribute to its members and staff."

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