Hospice Whanganui’s in-patient unit mostly empty but organisation busier than ever in community

Posted: September 5, 2023 | Category: General, Media / News

Article by Mike Tweed, Whanganui Chronicle.

Hospice Whanganui’s chief executive says its in-patient unit is still available, despite a push towards home-based care.

The unit at Virginia Rd had five beds but only looked after one or two patients every couple of months, Davene Vroon said.

That wasn’t because entry criteria had tightened.

“We are actually seeing more patients than we ever have,” Vroon said.

“At any particular point in time, say today, we would look after 100 active patients.”

She said there was a perception in the community that everyone under the Hospice service came to the unit to die.

“That couldn’t be further from the truth but it is a perception.

“The reality is, we look after the vast majority of our patients in the community.”

A six-month review of the Hospice Whanganui service resulted in a change in its model of care in 2022.

Vroon said decision-making was put back in the hands of patients and their families.

Almost all expressed a desire to remain at home if possible.

“We went through a bit of a search as an organisation to see if we could actually deliver that – could we bring our in-patient service out to their homes, if that is what they want,” Vroon said.

“Through that process we made a whole series of changes. We are now able to provide a 24/7 community service.

“In the past, our service with community patients closed at 4.30pm. All our nurses went home.”

Nurses and healthcare assistants now worked on three shifts running from 8am to 10pm, followed by an on-call nurse and doctor and the St John ambulance service until 8am the next day.

As for the in-patient unit, admission criteria was on a case-by-case basis and based on patient choice, she said.

“Yes, we are seeing far less people in the in-patient unit but the quality of service isn’t any less. In fact, you could argue it’s more responsive to patient need.

“If it becomes apparent that they have a wish for a short-term stay in our unit, we’ll make it available if that’s what they want and that’s what they need.

“We would never turn someone away when they are having that conversation with us. That is not consistent with our values.”

Vroon said the unit wasn’t and never had been a long-term residential option, it was for a few days at a time.

Hospice had good partnerships with rest homes across Whanganui if a patient had weeks or months to live.

“We are still available for the same level of support and care, whether they are in the rest home or their home.

“Palliative patients do go to rest homes but they always have. Rest homes play a pivotal role because they are the longer-term care facilities for people in this community.”

Hospice Whanganui has a yearly budget of $3.7 million, around half of which comes via bulk funding from central government. The rest is made through fundraising.

Hospice’s biggest cost – $2.4m – was clinical salaries, Vroon said.

“Our biggest investment is in our people delivering frontline service – doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, social workers, chaplains, whānau support navigators.”

Previously, a lot of resources were dedicated to the in-patient unit, which looked after “the absolute minority” of Hospice’s patients, Vroon said.

“You had two or three patients in the unit but 90 in the community.

“We wanted our resources to match where people wanted to be and the kind of service they wanted to receive from us.”

Vroon said she wasn’t hearing complaints about the in-patient unit not being used but if she did, she would “bend over backwards” to find out what was going on.

“We are hearing some people say Hospice is closed but most are saying ‘This was an amazing, transformational service’ and ‘You did what we wanted you to do’.

“If families or patients aren’t happy with service they are getting, please come and talk to us.”

The Hospice building on St Johns Hill was opened by Dame Catherine Tizard in April 2002.

“I’m sure there were lots of really generous that gave money over the years, but services do evolve and change,” Vroom said.

“They have to become more and more responsive but our unit is still being used.

“The community is in safe hands, genuinely. There is lots to be celebrated and very little to be concerned about.”

Mike Tweed is an assistant news director and multimedia journalist at the Whanganui Chronicle. Since starting in March 2020, he has dabbled in everything from sport to music. At present his focus is local government, primarily the Whanganui District Council.

Read article via Whanganui Chronicle online HERE