Mum found outside hospital

A wandering dementia patient highlights staffing problems at Waratah Village.

On 15 April an 86-year-old DEMENTIA sufferer, resident of Waratah Village, was found knocking on the windows of the West Wyaong District Hospital.

She somehow managed to leave Waratah Village undetected and walk to the hospital several hundred metres away.

“When the hospital staff called the facility nobody answered the phone, and when they took mum back there no one knew she was missing,” her daughter, Jill Funnell, a registered nurse of 42 years standing, told The Lamp.

Jill, who works casual at the hospital, said the incident underlined the impact of staff losses at Waratah Village.

“If residents can’t find a staff member they might seek reassurance somewhere else and they will wander.”

Jill said the people and council of West Wyalong thought they were handing Waratah Village over to an organisation experienced in age care. “Nobody expected the staff cuts and that the facility would be downgraded from high care to suit the provider.”

“The new owners effectively wiped out all the RNs here. They were experienced RNs trained to know what to look for when frail and aged people become unwell. High care residents were put in the hands of unlicensed people, changing the whole concept of the village.

“The owners (Royal Freemasons’ Benevolent Institution) claim they have an RN on call if issues arise, but someone working there has to have the competence and training to recognise a problem.

“For instance there’s a difference between someone with dementia being confused as they normally are, and someone hallucinating because they are ill, septic and becoming poisonous. An RN can recognise these differences.”

Jill described the RFBI’s eventual acceptance of 24-hour, 7-day nurse coverage as “a good outcome, which wouldn’t have happened without the union getting involved. It shows what can happen when nurses make a stand, which is not always easy in a small town.”

She said getting local media on side and keeping them informed, also contributed to the outcome.

Jill said many elderly West Wyalong residents now receiving home help were on the cusp of requiring high residential care.

“People are worried they won’t be able to get this care in town any longer and will have to travel at least 80km away, maybe much further. There are people in the 22-bed acute care hospital here, who will soon have to vacate their beds and will also need residential care.

“These are people who have lived in the community all their lives and suddenly in their darkest days they face the risk of being forced out of town.”