The first of 35 new Specialist Dementia Care Units for people whose symptoms are too severe to be adequately cared for by mainstream services is expected to start receiving residents this year, marking the first step towards a national network of specialist dementia care.
The SDCU prototype will be developed by Brightwater Care Group at Brightwater The Village in Inglewood, a dementia-specific home within in the Perth North Primary Health Network.
“The department is currently in negotiation with Brightwater on the final contract details including refurbishment requirements for the SDCU,” a government spokesman told Community Care Review.
Residents from the community, the Brightwater facility and other residential facilities in the PHN who are assessed as requiring high level support are expected to start moving into the unit from the second half of the year, a spokeswoman for Brightwater said.
A second phase of tenders for the next 15 units will begin mid-year and the remaining sites will be awarded in 2021.
Catering for 300 high-need residents
The nine-bed units, eventually catering for more than 300 people nationally, will be set up in each of Australia’s 31 primary health networks, with an additional four established in areas where they are most needed, the government announced on Tuesday.
They will form the basis of a national Specialist Dementia Care Program (SDCP) designed to provide multidisciplinary care and gather research data on people living with advanced dementia.
The SDCP will provide “best practice person-centred care for people exhibiting very severe behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia,” Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt and Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a joint statement.
The target group is estimated to represent about one in every 100 people living with dementia.
The SDCP will join the Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Service and the Severe Behaviour Response Teams as a “third level” of government programs for people with dementia, the government says.
The government will invest $70 million a year in the initiative, which it announced in 2016 in response to calls from experts and aged care stakeholders.
The first fifteen units are planned to be up and running by 2020 with the full rollout complete by 2023, and the government was talking to the states about the location of the remaining units, Mr Wyatt said on Tuesday.
Missing link in dementia care
The move has been widely welcomed by industry bodies, consumer groups and aged care stakeholders.
Industry peak ACSA said the network was a much-needed addition to existing dementia services.
“Dementia is one of the major reasons older people enter aged care or seek assistance and its prevalence is rising, so it is very good to see the federal government responding to our increasing needs in this area,” said CEO Pat Sparrow.
Consumer advocacy group COTA said the program would provide much needed support for older people who were severely affected by dementia but weren’t currently getting appropriate care in residential facilities.
“The program .. is a good step forward in ensuring people with dementia receive the tailored specialist care they deserve and are entitled to,” CEO Ian Yates said.
However he said while the SDCUs were an important supplement, they didn’t remove the need for good dementia support across all aged care.
Dementia Australia, the nation’s peak advocacy body for people with dementia and their families, welcomed the announcement that the model could be tested ahead of a broader national roll out.
“There is a small but important proportion of the 436,000 Australians living with dementia who will be able to access this support,” CEO Maree McCabe said.
Reducing need for chemical restraint
UNSW’s Professor Henry Brodaty, who was instrumental in developing the SDCU model, told Community Care Review there would be a challenge in allocating the limited number of beds given there were an estimated 4,400 Australians with severe dementia symptoms.
However the units were intended to have a flow-through of about 12 months to allow symptoms to settle before people transitioned back mainstream care.
“It has to be equitable, it has to be transparent, and it has to be a system that works for the community, not just a few people with the loudest voices,” he said.
Having specialist dementia units would also help reduce the need for chemical restraint, he added.
CEO of HammondCare, Dr Stephen Judd, said the organisation’s work in running a similar unit in Sydney for 12 years, had shown SDCUs worked, especially when located within existing facilities.
“A network of specialist dementia care units has been the missing link in dementia care in Australia,” he said.
“The idea that we can actually have an aged care system where every outlet can do everything for everyone is just not true, so you need to have services which support that small group of people that aren’t otherwise able to be supported in mainstream.”
Dr Judd also welcomed the upcoming tender process for the next 15 units but declined to comment on whether HammondCare would put its hat in the ring until he had more information.
Elements of the SDCP
- At least one specialist care unit in each PHN with nine beds within an existing residential aged care facility
- A national assessment framework
- Multidisciplinary care
- Regular specialist clinical input and review
- Transitional support
- Regular reporting, evaluation and sharing of clinical outcomes