Aged care residents in the Illawarra will have access to medical care in their homes to avoid unnecessary and often lengthy visits to hospital emergency departments.
The Aged Care Outreach Service (ACOS) will help ease pressure on the region’s busy emergency departments by providing in-home medical care and clinical support to elderly people living in residential aged care facilities.
The service was launched in July in 10 Illawarra aged care facilities and is being rolled out across the Illawarra Shoalhaven in a staged approach. It is expected to be operating in all 42 residential aged care facilities by the end of the year.
Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD) Chief Executive Margot Mains said the service was already seeing great results and feedback from residents, their families and aged care operators had been extremely positive.
“In the first 35 days, the ACOS team saw 117 aged care residents, with only eight needing transfer to hospital for a higher level of care,” Ms Mains said.
“By increasing the number of aged care residents able to receive medical care in their aged care facility and not requiring transfer to hospital, this service enables emergency department staff to focus on patients who require more complex emergency care.”
NSW Health Minister and Member for Keira Ryan Park said the new service would provide timely, effective assessment and appropriate clinical care.
“The outreach service allows a team of specialist clinicians to attend residential aged care facilities and provide direct intervention to residents with acute illness,” Mr Park said.
“The service will run from 8 am – 8 pm, seven days a week, and means many aged care residents will avoid having to attend a hospital emergency department and can instead receive the care they need at home.
“This model not only provides faster care to older people in aged care facilities, but also helps maintain their health and independence by enabling them to remain in an environment that is more comfortable and familiar.”
Patients will be referred to ACOS by their residential aged care facility or NSW Ambulance, where clinically appropriate.
They will then be linked with a multidisciplinary team of clinicians, including registered nurses, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse consultants and a geriatrician who can provide the care they need.
Mr Park said the service would help to reduce the number of patients unnecessarily presenting to emergency departments and allow EDs to deal with critically sick patients.
Last month the NSW and Federal Governments joined forces to provide up to 35 temporary aged care beds in the region, to transfer elderly patients out of Wollongong Hospital in a bid to tackle the critical bed shortage impacting waiting times in the emergency department.
For many months, the local health district has been faced with high numbers of patients in acute hospital beds waiting for aged care placement, fuelled in part by the closure of several aged care homes in the past year which resulted in a loss of more than 400 beds.
There were 42,714 attendances to emergency departments across ISLHD in the first quarter of 2023, with a record number of patients in the two most urgent triage categories.
Member for Heathcote Maryanne Stuart welcomed the new service, and said she had seen first-hand the difference these ‘flying squads’ could make in the lives of vulnerable, elderly people.
“My mother benefitted from the palliative care team flying squad at the end of her life but when my father needed it, a flying squad was not available to him. The difference was stark and a service such as ACOS could have prevented a lot of pain for him,” she said.