Future of local hospital secured

SARAH DUNN
Last updated 13:00 26/02/2014

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After being slated to close in 2012, Richmond psychogeriatric care centre Alexandra Hospital now faces a reversal of its fortunes.

It will receive an $800,000 refurbishment, which will make sure it stays viable for at least the next 10 years.

"The staff will be very, very happy that their fortunes have finally become clearer," Nelson Marlborough District Health Board chief executive Chris Fleming said.

Patients needing dementia care, rehabilitation, mental health support services and other specialist services have been cared for at the hospital since it was converted from a rest home in 1996.

It has 30 psychogeriatric continuing aged residential care beds, a psychogeriatric community team which makes home visits and provides clinics, and seven acute psychogeratric beds.

Following a review in 2010, the DHB decided to sell the hospital, and began transferring the 30 residential patients to other providers a year later.

Eight beds were kept at Alexandra for assessment, treatment and rehabilitation, but Mr Fleming said at a board meeting yesterday that non-geriatric patients with challenging behaviour who did not fit in elsewhere continued to be transferred from acute hospital beds to Alexandra.

He said that when he inherited the situation last year, the main options being considered were to build a new hospital on the Nelson Hospital grounds, next to the Tipahi mental health unit, or to redevelop the existing facilities at Alexandra. "There has been much to-ing and fro-ing."

In addition, the DHB looked at squeezing Alexandra Hospital into the same building as Tipahi, but there was not enough space.

Mr Fleming said the land next door to Tipahi was better suited to high-rise buildings than the type of building Alexandra required.

"It seems [an] extremely poor use of land on the acute hospital site to build low-rise buildings which also require reasonable but secure land use."

The DHB then looked at placing Alexandra across the road on the Braemar grounds. It considered building a new facility or converting one of the existing offices there.

Mr Fleming said the cost of this option would have been "negligible" once proceeds from the sale of the $1.4 million Richmond site had been factored in, but there had been "strong views" from clinicians, who felt that it was best to keep hold of the land for the benefit of future generations.

Refurbishing Alexandra's existing premises would cost around $800,000, he said, but the DHB would retain the use of the land long-term, making this an attractive option.

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He said the DHB had considered making the Public Health service share part of Alexandra's large site, at an additional refurbishment cost of around $400,000, but decided against it.

"It is not so much the co-location, but rather placing Public Health in the middle of a residential subdivision does not make good sense," Mr Fleming said. "Public Health should have some degree of profile."

The board yesterday endorsed refurbishing the site and consolidating it solely for the use of psychogeriatric patients.

Mr Fleming said psychogeriatrics would not need to use all of the large site. A wall would be built to block off the areas that would not be required. They would either be left vacant until needed, or filled by a different service.

He expected there would be enough space to allow patients to remain there while the hospital was being redeveloped.

At the request of Dr Sharon Kletchko, general manager of strategy planning and alliance support, the DHB will also explore the viability of adding a unit to deal with people who have complex behavioural issues.

She said some "very complex" patients fell between disability support services and psychogeriatrics, and required special behavioural management treatment before they could be supported in the community.

A Nelson woman whose now-deceased father spent years in Alexandra Hospital today praised the decision to keep the facility open.

She said that while her father was suffering from severe Alzheimer's disease and "challenging" behaviour, Alexandra was the only place he had settled before the increasing physical demands of old age made him easier to handle. "We were just so happy with him being out there."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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