Geraldton hit hard by aged care crisis, elderly forced to stay in hospitals as nursing homes are full

Anna CoxGeraldton Guardian
Andreana Jones had to advocate for her client’s mother to be placed in a nursing home.
Camera IconAndreana Jones had to advocate for her client’s mother to be placed in a nursing home. Credit: Anna Cox

Eight patients are taking up beds at Geraldton Regional Hospital while waiting to be placed in aged care homes — the highest number in any regional hospital in WA.

WA Country Health Service figures show about one in six beds at Geraldton’s hospital is being occupied by patients who are in the queue for an aged care placement but cannot return home in the interim.

While these figures change daily, it is understood 20 beds in regional hospitals across WA are occupied by elderly patients who are unable to return home. The figures are current as of June 15.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care summary report found people in regional, rural and remote areas experienced multiple disadvantages, which could magnify the need for support in older age.

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The report also 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.

Population growth and ageing in communities is affecting access to appropriate aged care beds and services, with Geraldton’s three aged care facilities no exception to the rule.

The absence of residential aged care beds has been an ongoing sore spot for regional communities across Australia, with the 282 beds in nursing homes across the city filled.

Juniper Aged Care CEO Russell Bricknell said the Geraldton facility had always been highly sought-after, with a consistently high occupancy rate.

“While the wait time for admission may vary, we assure you that as soon as a bed becomes available, we have a quick turnaround time due to our commitment to providing exceptional care and prioritising the needs of our community,” he said.

A WACHS spokesperson said: “Hospitals across WA sometimes provide care to older patients while they await placement at an aged care facility. We do this in the event it is not safe for the person to return home, and our staff work hard to balance this against day-to-day patient flow and bed availability.”

Andreana Jones is an independent support worker in Geraldton who is a carer for a 61-year-old woman, occasionally helping the woman’s mother when they visit her.

In September, Ms Jones found the mother unresponsive at her home and called an ambulance and she was taken to Geraldton Regional Hospital.

Ms Jones explained to hospital staff she believed it was not safe for the mother to return home as she was unable to care for herself.

“What should’ve been a week stay became four weeks while we waited for a bed to become available — she’s in Nazareth House now,” Ms Jones said.

“ But that bed could’ve been used by someone who really needed it.”

A Department of Health and Aged Care spokesperson said: “The WA Department of Health is partnering with the Commonwealth Government and the aged care sector to trial a scheme that aims to reduce aged care related bed blockages in hospitals 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.”

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