The NSW and Federal Governments have joined forces to transfer elderly patients out of Wollongong Hospital to tackle the critical bed shortage impacting waiting times in the emergency department.
Up to 35 temporary aged care beds are being made available across the Illawarra Shoalhaven region, including a temporary 20-bed ward at Figtree Private Hospital.
Last month it was revealed the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD) had more patients in acute hospital beds waiting for aged care placement than anywhere else in the state.
An average of 92 local hospital patients every day in the Illawarra Shoalhaven have been classified as ready for transfer to a residential aged care facility over the past 12 months, more than double the figures before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The increased demand for hospital beds had been fuelled in part by the closure of several aged care homes in the past year, resulting in a loss of more than 400 beds.
NSW Health Minister and Member for Keira Ryan Park said the funding agreement between the NSW Government and the Federal Government would enable additional beds in the Illawarra Shoalhaven to open under the Transitional Aged Care Program.
“This will make it possible for more patients to be safely discharged from hospital to another care facility while they wait for a residential placement to become available,” Mr Park said.
“Under the agreement, the NSW Government will contribute around 75 per cent of the funding required to open 20 additional transition beds in Illawarra, which will equate to around $5 million annually.
“We will also jointly fund an additional 15 transitional beds in the Shoalhaven, with four already in place in Nowra.”
ISLHD Chief Executive Margot Mains welcomed the move and said the district had been working closely with local residential aged care providers, the Federal and NSW Governments to develop sustainable solutions to the current challenge of residential aged care bed access.
“We remain committed to reducing unnecessary lengths of stay in hospital experienced by older people and will continue to work to ensure they are cared for in the most appropriate environment,” Ms Mains said.
“I would like to acknowledge the remarkable efforts of the many staff across the district who have worked to provide outstanding care to our patients during these challenging times. I would also like to thank our staff for their ongoing work to explore new models of care and initiatives to improve access and flow within our hospitals.”
Mr Park said the local health district had been facing unprecedented challenges with the flow of patients through local hospitals because of the impact of residential aged care bed shortages.
“This no doubt creates a level of uncertainty for patients and their loved ones because they are forced to wait in hospital,” Mr Park said.
“It also impacts access to beds for other patients needing admission to our public hospitals.
“This relief package will enable more elderly patients, who are well enough for discharge, to be cared for in a more appropriate facility while at the same time making more hospital beds available.”
Federal Member for Cunningham, Alison Byrnes, said the collaborative agreement with Federal Aged Care Minister Annika Wells would help public hospitals transition elderly patients into more appropriate care.
“Both Minister Wells and I see it as a priority to work cooperatively with government and the sector to achieve effective solutions that will reduce pressure on our hospitals, while delivering the care that older Illawarra residents need, when they need it and in a form that meets their care needs,” Ms Byrne said.
Earlier this month, IRT CEO Patrick Reid told Region the organisation was looking into options to get aged care beds back online to help deal with bed block issues.
IRT acquired Marco Polo’s struggling aged care centres earlier this year after it was forced to close a facility. Mr Reid said IRT was committed to maintaining and improving the existing assets at the Unanderra and Woonona sites.
“It also gives us options with our own Woonona site, which is ageing; we need to make sure that they’re keeping pace with changes and care as well,” he said.
“At Unanderra we have the nursing home which has been closed, and we’re trying to figure out how we get beds back online for the Illawarra with an issue of exit block at the hospitals and a few other issues.”
The additional transitional aged care beds will open over the next few months.