Game changer for rehabilitation

A new ‘TRACS’ collaboration between the SA Government, the Commonwealth, Flinders University and aged services provider, ACH Group, hopes to train a new generation of health professionals in a restorative approach to rehabilitation.

Above: At the offical launch of ViTA, left to right: Jeff Fiebig (ACH Group), South Australian Minister for Health and Ageing Jack Snelling, Professor Paul Worley (Dean of Medicine, Flinders University), Dr Mike Rungie, CEO of ACH Group, Annabel Digance and MInister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler.

“There really ought to be more collaboration and partnerships like this if we are going to achieve this change to a restorative culture and progress the way we think about people who need aged care.” Jeff Fiebig, ACH Group

By Keryn Curtis

Federal Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler joined South Australian Minister for Health and Ageing, Jack Snelling last Friday for a ceremony to lay the first foundations for a $46 million state of the art 120-place health, teaching and research facility, at Adelaide’s Repatriation General Hospital.

Named ViTA, meaning ‘life’, the new service is the product of a partnership between SA Health, ACH Group and Flinders University. Described as a new concept in rehabilitation, it will link together health, aged care and education to enable older people to access rehabilitation and other support services in a purpose built facility in one location, with the benefit of best practice teaching and research, as they recover from accident or illness.

ACH describes the new facility as having a strong focus on ‘recovery, health restoration and rehabilitation so that older people have every opportunity to return home and recover their independence’.

Eight years in development, ViTA is the result of complex committed partnership negotiations and agreements between key Commonwealth and state government stakeholders, the university and ACH Group in an effort to move away from traditional models of aged care, to a restorative and teaching model.  

Complementary services

ViTA will offer three broad categories of service across a total of 120 places, comprising 60 long term aged care places, 40 transition places and 20 rehabilitation places. Each is designed to have a slightly different, yet complementary focus.  It will also provide teaching facilities for students, access to a range of innovative recovery technology and access to other SA Health services at ‘the Repat’.

According to ACH’s Program Development manager, Jeff Fiebig, who has been a key facilitator of the project, the 40 transition care places are designed for transition care, ‘step up and step-down’ care and care awaiting placement.  They will allow people to be discharged from hospital earlier and return home, to move into residential aged care or into a supportive environment prior to admission to hospital.

“These 40 transition places will be owned by the state government but managed by ACH Group.”  

The 60 residential aged care places aim to provide support for older people in a welcoming, healthy-ageing environment, while the 20 places in the rehabilitation unit will focus on building physical strength, flexibility and mobility for a sustained return to good health.  

Mr Fiebig says ViTA aims to change some cultures around care for older people, away from traditional models of aged care to a restorative model and a teaching model.  

“It’s telling,” he says, “that when hospitals are discharging elderly people who aren’t well enough or mobile enough to return home, they say, what nursing homes are available?

“Taking a restorative approach, we would say, there are other places and that greater priority could be given to those high level, intensive services aimed at getting people back home, than the system currently allows.”

Mr Fiebig also says they would like to see greater flexibility between the different levels of care and support.

“With the focus on restoration, ideally you put the person in the place and bring the service to them at whatever level or intensity they need at the time.  Like the concept of ageing in place, this is a concept of restoration in place,” he said.

With all the places being offered at Vita on a consumer directed care basis, Mr Fiebig believes that the concept of self directed restoration is likely to evolve. “Partly becuase this is what people keep telling ACH Group that they want and also because, in the longer term, it reduces the need for more expensive acute care and residential care,” Mr Fiebig said.

Above: Computer generated rendering of the smart room concept

State of the art design

A key feature of the ViTA design is the high-tech, extra-large rooms they are calling ‘smart rooms’.  Modelled on the private hospital/hotel approach, they will be fitted with smart touch screen technology, including Skype, and be big enough that the person can do a lot of rehabilitation exercises and activities in their own room. 

“It also means that you can fit friends and family when they come to visit because a vital part of the restoration process is your capacity to keep up with friends,” said Mr Fiebig.

Another benefit of the larger rooms is the ability to bring groups of students in as part of the integrated teaching and research program. ACH Group is expecting up to around 600 students per year, working on an interdisciplinary teaching model, to use Vita.

Above: Computer generated rendering of ViTA’s simulaiton lab for teaching

A teaching partnership

The teaching partnership with Flinders University will see students across a diverse range of courses and disciplines studying and training at ViTA.  They will include students of medicine, nursing, allied health disciplines, pharmacy, social work and also hotel and hospitality programs.  

“There is a simulation lab set up, with one way glass and video equipment and robotic dummies; and there is a gym and seminar rooms. Like a teaching hospital, people will get the excellent care they require but the facility will also be taking on a teaching responsibility,” said Mr Fiebig. 

The teaching component will also be linked to a range of regional sites, including Darwin, Renmark and Mt Gambier, as well as potential overseas locations too.  

“Theoretically we can have something being taught at ViTA but have students from a whole range of other places, both in Australia and overseas, participating,” Mr Fiebig said. “That is part of the benefit of linking in with Flinders University and their teaching network.”

Mr Fiebig said ACH Group was grateful to the Commonwealth for its funding and other support for the project.  He praised the efforts of all members of the partnership – the SA state government, Flinders University and the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing.

“It has been a truly progressive and productive partnership. There really ought to be more collaboration and partnerships like this if we are going to achieve this change to a restorative culture and progress the way we think about people who need aged care.”

“We need to particularly thank Professor Maria Crotty, who is the head of rehab at the Adelaide Repatriation General Hospital; Brendan Hewitt who handled the negotiations from the state government side; and Rhys Williams from Flinders University. The project has been a large and complex set of stages and negotiations over eight years and these people have made it happen,” Mr Fiebig said.

ViTA is scheduled to open in June 2014.

Tags: ach-group, flinders-university, jack-snelling, jeff-fiebig, sa-government, tracs, vita,

3 thoughts on “Game changer for rehabilitation

  1. well done to Mike and his team and partners. what a fabulous , forward thinking initiative. i think this is a very good example of sticking with what you think is the right way forward , no matter how hard or long and complex the negotiations maybe .

  2. What an outstanding achievement – to set up a facility with a restorative and teaching approach to supporting older people. The combination of residential, transition (potentially to home) and rehabilitation is great.

    I look forward to seeing articles in the future about your experiences and learnings so we can use your practice to improve our own.

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