Above: Amanda Klahr, manager of the Geriatric Flying Squad.

The Geriatric Flying Squad has taken out the $10,000 Innovation in Nursing prize at the 2011 HESTA Australian Nursing Awards ceremony, held recently in Melbourne.

The award, including the prize money to be spent developing the service, was presented in front of an audience of hundreds at a gala awards ceremony held on the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birthday, 12 May, also known as International Nurses Day.

The rapid-response nursing service for older people living at home was developed at the War Memorial Hospital in Waverly Park, NSW with the philosophy “to do whatever it takes and never say we can’t help”.

Clinical nurse consultant Amanda Klahr manages the program, which provides comprehensive geriatric assessments, multidisciplinary care in the home, and referrals to appropriate services.

The team includes a clinical nurse specialist, a doctor specialising in geriatric care, a social worker, occupational therapist, physiotherapist and clinical psychologist.

“Our clients are community-dwelling elders who are failing at home for some reason; they are referred to us by a concerned GP, neighbour, carer or family member,” Ms Klahr said.

“The Geriatric Flying Squad is a rapid-response service for sub-acute patients. The nurses triage the clients by researching their medical records and talking to family or the GP, and we are in the house in two to three days.”

The aim of the service is to assist clients to continue to live in their own homes and to maximise their quality of life. A key benefit is the reduction in presentations to emergency departments for older people.

“Emergency departments are not the ideal environments for older people,” Ms Klahr said. “I like to think we rescue at least one older person a week by helping to eliminate unnecessary trips to the emergency department and in turn enabling emergency departments to continue delivering immediate and acute care to the broader community.”

If a patient needs hospital care, the team can organise direct admission into either War Memorial Hospital or one of two other major local hospitals for rehabilitation.

Established with funding from the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), the Geriatric Flying Squad members use laptop computers to offer a flexible, paperless mobile service.

“No two patients follow the same pathway of care,” Ms Klahr said. “Our criteria are very flexible, which means we are very broad in what we see and can treat.”

“It’s about fitting the service to the client’s needs. If I go to a client’s house and they need a bath, I give them a bath. Whether it’s a cognitive assessment, a leg ulcer, a complicated family situation or transport to a medical appointment, I can do it.”

The squad typically works with a client for 12 to 15 weeks including an intensive first month before discharge. If the client encounters difficulties again, they have the option of returning to the service.

The $10,000 HESTA Australian Nurse of the Year prize went to Sydney’s Paul Esplin from St Vincent’s Hospital Homeless Health Service and Mission Australia. The $5,000 Graduate Nurse of the Year Award went to Zena Coffey from Austin Health in Victoria.

All the money was donated by Members Equity bank, which is owned by the industry-based superannuation funds, like HESTA, who are themselves managed by unions and industry groups.

HESTA CEO Anne-Marie Corboy congratulated all the 2011 winners and thanked the 480 people who made a nomination this year. 

“The HESTA Australian Nursing Awards highlight three extraordinary nurses but they are also a tribute to the many thousands of nurses engaged in lifesaving work every day,” she said.

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