Rehab beds lost after shock unit closure

Rehabilitation bed numbers in Lismore will be halved come mid-January, when the North Coast Area Health Service (NCAHS) implements a contingency plan to offset the closure of the 33 rehabilitation beds at St Vincents Hospital.

The plan comes in the wake of a shock revelation at a public meeting in Lismore last week that St Vincents Hospital will close its rehabilitation beds on December 15 much earlier than expected.

St Vincents management claimed the NCAHS failed to respond to their request for increased payments to continue operating rehabilitation beds. However, NCAHS chief executive Chris Crawford produced a letter showing that the NCAHS had in fact replied. Despite Mr Crawfords response, St Vincents CEO Bob Walsh maintained that their decision was final.

Mr Crawford said St Vincents actions came as a surprise and disappointment.

Under the contingency plan announced by the NCAHS this week, rehabilitation services in Lismore will be maintained with 12 rehabilitation beds at Lismore Base Hospital (LBH) and another 12 rehabilitation and six transitional care beds at Ballina District Hospital. These beds will remain in place until a new Ballina facility opens in February 2008.

The interim arrangements allow for all 50 staff who will be displaced by the closure to be employed at both new units, with patients to be transferred from the current unit to the hospital during the New Year holiday.

NSW Nurses Association LBH branch secretary Helen ODonnell said yesterday that nurses at LBH were pleased rehabilitation services would be provided in Lismore but disappointed with St Vincents Hospitals decision to close its rehabilitation unit without consultation.

Ms ODonnell said nurses at LBH were also concerned about the loss of three rehabilitation beds under the plan. Ms ODonnell has called an urgent branch meeting on Monday with Mr Crawford to discuss staff concerns.

The meeting will give management a chance to answer our questions on a raft of issues raised by the plan such as why there will be a reduction in three beds and security concerns we have over where the new beds will be relocated, she said. We support the plan because it maintains rehabilitation beds in Lismore but on the proviso that we get adequate resources. It may mean more complex work, so we will need extra resources to continue providing high-quality care.

Mr Crawford said the new beds at both hospitals would be open seven days a week and minor works to establish the 12 new beds at LBH would begin soon.

We are now working closely with staff to have a seamless transition by January 18, Mr Crawford said.

He said unions representing both nursing and ancillary staff had so far been positive about the plan and staff would be involved and continually consulted during the transition process.

These arrangements will satisfy the areas rehabilitation needs in the interim till the full program is finalised with 24 rehabilitation beds to be in place at Ballina when the unit there opens in February 2008 and 24 beds at Lismore Base Hospital when the third stage of its redevelopment is completed which is still some years away, he said.

St Vincents Hospital board chairman Frank Hannigan said he had accepted an offer by the NSW Health Minister to discuss the issue. He would not comment further.

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