The construction of Southland Charity Hospital is beginning on Thursday - a significant milestone coinciding with what would have been Blair Vining's 41st birthday.
The Southland Charity Hospital Trust was formed in 2019 following Vining's battle with terminal bowel cancer. After his diagnosis in 2018, the father-of-two was told he had just weeks to live - and due to the severely under-resourced health services in Southland, it was unlikely he would be able to see a specialist before the cancer took his life.
After discovering the extent of the inequity in the region, Vining launched his campaign for more accessible cancer care. He lost his battle with the disease in October 2019.
Now, Vining's dream to make cancer care accessible and equitable for all New Zealanders is becoming a reality.
Construction is beginning at the site on Thursday, just one day after building consent was granted. The Invercargill Licensing Trust gifted the former Clifton Club Inn and the land, and more than $2 million has already been raised due to fundraising efforts by the community.
Once completed, the hospital will provide free healthcare to those living in the Southern District Health Board (DHB) zone who are unable to access treatment through the public or private systems.
Vining's widow, Melissa, has continued her late husband's fight for more equitable healthcare in the region. She is hopeful the hospital will be operational by April 2022.
"The cranes are coming in and construction is starting," Melissa told The AM Show on Thursday morning. "It's a big day today.
"I can't wait until it's open and helping people."
She reiterated the hospital will cater for Otago and Southland residents who are declined by the Southern DHB, as well as those who cannot afford to access private treatment.
"We're helping the people that have been missed out," she said.
The renovation of the site will cost around $4.5 millon, Melissa said, and more funds are required to reach that goal. A significant amount has already been raised through the Buy a Brick campaign, which Kiwis can donate to here.
The project is also looking for more tradespeople. If interested, builders can volunteer their time via the Southland Charity Hospital website.
Melissa said her late husband would be "so stoked" with today's milestone.
"He'd be saying 'get it done'," she said. "He'd be so stoked with all the people that have made it possible."