Patients languish in South West hospitals

Julie and Eroll Pollar.
Julie and Eroll Pollar.

THE length of time a patient spends in hospital  is on the rise with average stays at some South West hospitals more than double last year, figures from a parliamentary inquiry show. 

Last year the average length of stay at Donnybrook Hospital more than doubled and Bridgetown Hospital visits increased by 146 days.

In the nine months from December 2014 to September 2015 patients stayed an average of 263 days at Donnybrook Hospital. 

This was more than double the previous 12 months average, from December 2013 to December 2014, of 124 days.

South West MLC Adele Farina has blamed the lack of aged care facilities in the South West for the increase, which she said is seeing elderly people languish in hospitals.

“Elderly people who can no longer care for themselves at home are being admitted to hospital for unacceptably long periods of time while they wait for a place in an aged care facility to become available and this is less than ideal,” Ms Farina said.

“In some cases elderly people awaiting aged care places are admitted to regional hospitals away from their home town, meaning they are separated from their families and support networks.”

WA Country Health Service South West regional director Kerry Winsor said the reason for extended aged care stays was due to a mixture of factors, including limited suitable private residential aged care or a patient’s preference to remain living in the town rather than relocating to another town or to Perth.

Bethanie Fields aged care facility chief executive Chris How said a patient staying in hospital for extended amounts of time was not ideal.

He said while the turnover rate was high at both of their facilities in Bunbury they had a waitlist of around 80 people at any given time.

“I used to be a nurse in a regional multi-purpose facility and the care given is very different to that in a specialised age care facility,” Mr How said.

“The hospitals can have a sterile, clinical persona whereas the aged care facility has a homely feel to it.”

He said the average stay of a patient was between 14 and 16 months and they had 241 places between the Bethanie Fields and Elanora facilities.

Bethanie Fields patient Errol Poller had been at the facility for almost four years and was admitted after he had a stroke.

Mr Poller cannot talk or walk and his wife Julia said the age care centre had been extremely accommodating for his needs.

“We had to wait about four weeks before getting this place and I didn’t have a choice because I couldn’t care for him on my own at home,” Ms Poller said.

“If I had taken him home I would have only got two hours of help a day from the government and that’s when I realised I needed a nursing home.

“When you are in hospital you are really ill and Errol is not ill, he just cannot look after himself and he needs a carer and that’s what Bethanie provide.”

Last week, Health Minister Kim Hames announced improvement grants worth $19 million  for residential aged care and dementia care facilities.

“There is a global focus on how best to cater for people as they age and to ensure they remain healthy, active and engaged in the community,” Mr Hames said. 

“This is also supported through age friendly communities and age appropriate housing where older people can maintain links to social networks.”