Limerick patients on the mend following treatment at UL field hospital

David Hurley

Reporter:

David Hurley

Email:

david.hurley@limerickleader.ie

Limerick patients on the mend following treatment at UL field hospital

There are currently 31 patients at the Intermediate Care Facility at UL PICTURES: Keith Wiseman

PATIENTS admitted to the Intermediate Care Facility at the UL Arena are benefiting from a holistic, multidisciplinary approach to their ongoing rehabilitation when they are transferred to the facility from acute hospitals.

The field hospital was opened on June 8 to cater for non Covid-19 or post Covid-19 patients who no longer require acute medical attention, but who can benefit from ongoing rehabilitation and support before final discharge.

Seventy-five-year-old Tom Noonan from Dromcollogher, who was one of the first patients to be transferred to the temporary facility, admits he was initially puzzled at the novel healthcare setting.

“When I arrived, I noticed the basketballs and sports equipment, and then I saw all the nurses and staff, and I thought to myself, ‘Where am I at now?’ I didn’t know what to expect when I was coming here, but I’ll tell you this, I couldn’t have come to a better place,” he said. 

Tom who suffers from a number of conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) had 10 days earlier been admitted to UHL with a gangrenous toe. He was concerned when it was decided he could not be operated on, but has been delighted with the decision to transfer him to the ICF.

“Everything I need is right here, and everyone has been so kind. I’m being well looked after by wonderful doctors, Dr Con Cronin and Dr Eithne Mulloy, the nursing staff are minding my medication, and the physiotherapists have been bringing me for walks and to the gym. I’ve been through loads in the past few weeks, but I always try to stay positive. Only for the staff here, I wouldn’t be able to get around at all, and with all the physio and exercise they do with me, I’m getting around fairly well now,” Tom explained.

Tom also praised the work of the PALS team, including Conor Mehigan and Aileen Culhane, who have helped him to keep in touch with the outside world through video calls with his two brothers and three sisters.

“They’re so good for helping me with that. It’s typical of the care you get in the place. Honest to God now, I’ve never in my life had care the like of what I’ve received here.”

The 68-bed field hospital, which has capacity to scale up to 84 beds, grew out of the collaborative relationship between UL Hospitals Group and the University of Limerick, and was developed as a contingency solution to the patient flow and crowding challenges experienced in the region’s hospitals during the pandemic.

It is expected to be in place until at least September with an option to extend until November. It is laid out in partitioned wards and fitted with ward support accommodation such as clean and dirty utilities, pharmacy, pantry, staff change, clinical treatment areas, two recreation areas, and four enclosed rooms. 

The numbers of patients at the field hospital have increased steadily, and staffing has grown in line with this increase.

As of this week, a total of 50 patients have benefited from rehabilitation at the ICF to date, and there are currently 31 patients being cared for in the facility.

Fiona Steed, UL Hospital Group’s Allied Health lead, says the number and range of Health & Social Care Professionals has enabled a complete and fully rounded approach to patient needs.

“Patients at the ICF are benefiting from a complete, multi-disciplinary approach to their ongoing needs, from a range of disciplines. And because of our partnership with UL, we’ve also benefited from having practice tutors in Physiotherapy, Speech & Language Therapy, and Clinical Nutrition & Dietetics, and students in those disciplines. All of this is hugely beneficial, not just for the patients, whose healthcare experience is enhanced, but also the students, whose learning needs are being supported,” she said.

Senior Physiotherapist Mary Flahive, who has worked at UHL for the past 12 years, said: “When you say rehab, most people think, physio, some occupational health, maybe a bit of speech and language therapy, and that’s it. In the ICF, we have a whole-team multi-disciplinary approach, and that entire team, a full range of disciplines, is right here, focused only on the patients in this facility. It’s very patient-centred. As well as physio and occupational therapy, we are also providing dietitian input and medical social work. It’s not just about physically preparing them for home, but also ensuring their home situation is optimised. It’s about optimising people for discharge in the fullest sense of the word ‘holistic’.”

Josephine O’Shea, from Oola, found herself marking her 91st birthday in the Intermediate Care Facility, after she suffered a fall at home on her kitchen floor, sustaining painful bruising on her side and back.

It was her third fall in the past seven years, and came as a significant blow to her self-confidence. She was transferred to the ICF after spending a night at UHL, where it was decided she would benefit from some rehabilitation in the new facility.

Ahead of her discharge after two weeks of care, Josephine was effusive in her praise of the multidisciplinary team. “I’ve been amazed, because when we were driving in here, I was thinking, ‘Where on earth are we coming to?’ but I’m so pleased they did transfer me. The physiotherapists, Scott Murphy and Emer McGettrick and others, were great—they helped me to get on my feet and walk around, and many of the staff would also make time to have a chat with me. With all the rest and exercise I’ve had, I feel so much stronger now,” she said.

“I have a much more positive attitude now as well. Dr Cronin and Dr Mulloy and all the staff are wonderful. They’re so kind, and very reassuring, and they’ve given me the confidence I need to go home,” said Josephine, reflecting fondly on how the staff presented her with a cake on her 91st birthday and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to her. “I’m not giving up now,” Josephine added. “I’m going to go for the Hundred!”

Yvonne Young, Assistant Director of Nursing at the ICF, said that redeployment to the €1m facility has pushed everyone out of their comfort zones. She said she has been inspired daily by patients, and by the manner in which Clinical Nurse Managers, Staff Nurses and Healthcare Assistants have embraced the challenge as a unique and exciting opportunity.

“The phenomenal national response to the Covid-19 crisis was reflected in everyone’s approach to working in the ICF, and we really must acknowledge the phenomenal input of people behind the scenes who have worked tirelessly to make this facility a reality,” Yvonne said.

Professor Paul Burke, Chief Academic Officer of UL Hospitals Group and Vice Dean of Health Sciences at UL, was the executive lead on the ICF project that he describes as “a wonderful link” between the clinicians of UHL and the teaching staff and students from the school of Allied Health Sciences in UL.

“It has been great to see the patients benefit from this tremendous collaboration and receiving state of the art rehabilitation care from our physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists. The input from dietetics and support from social work has also been outstanding. This facility truly shows what can be achieved when we have this unique opportunity to fully resource a rehab facility, thanks to the additional support of the University, that helps people recover quickly after a prolonged stay in hospital,” Prof Burke said.

“To see all these staff working alongside our nursing and medical staff has been a very rewarding experience, and I hope we can continue to keep this model of care functioning when the ICF goes back to the University. I would like to thank all those involved who have made this project possible” he added.