Winter is here which means more people will end up in our already overstretched hospital system but older people are taking up valuable beds in regional hospitals waiting to go into aged care.
According to Western Australia Country Health Service data, about one in six beds at the hospital in the State’s regional city of Geraldton is being occupied by older people who are awaiting a place in a residential facility and cannot return home.
Andreana Jones is an independent support worker in Geraldton who cares for a 61-year-old woman and occasionally helps the woman’s mother when they visit her.
In September, Ms Jones found the mother unresponsive at her home and called an ambulance. She was taken to Geraldton Regional Hospital where she had to stay for four weeks until a vacancy came up in one of the three local aged care facilities.
“What should’ve been a week stay became four weeks while we waited for a bed to become available,” Ms Jones told The West Australian.
As our communities age, the population grows, and hospital beds become more scarce, aged care facilities and hospitals continue to struggle. So much so that a new virtual consult screening system for unwell aged care residents was rolled out across Perth’s northern and eastern suburbs in March in an attempt to avoid unnecessary Emergency Department presentations this winter.
The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s final report found the availability of aged care in outer regional and remote areas was significantly lower than in major cities, and had declined in recent years.
These struggles are felt both regionally and in metropolitan areas.
The declining situation in Geraldton follows the announcement that Perth aged care provider, Brightwater, will close three of its 12 residential facilities in the next year as it struggles to meet the requirements due to a lack of staff.
A Department of Health and Aged Care Spokesperson also told The West Australian that the WA Department of Health is partnering with the Government and the aged care sector to trial a scheme to help fix the problem by “paying residential aged care providers one-off payments for delivering residential respite to patients who are waiting in hospital beds for a permanent aged care place”.
Do you live in a regional town experiencing limited residential aged care availability? Let us know in the comments below.