A pilot project at the Ottawa Hospital aims to improve the care of people who are forced to live in the hospital while waiting for a space in a group home.

Some people with autism and developmental disabilities end up living at the Ottawa hospital when community care is not available.

'Having them in a room with nothing to do creates challenges…. It was creating safety issues for both the staff and for the patients who were involved.' - Ottawa hospital VP Debra Bournes.

Hospital officials say in some cases, these people have been calling the psychiatric ward home for more than 1,300 days at a cost of at least $1,250 a day.

Debra Bournes, vice president of clinical services at the Ottawa Hospital, said the current pilot project began last July.

It has allowed the hospital to partner with Innovative Community Support Services, a local social-services organization, and hire developmental service workers to spend time with patients, get them out of the hospital room and bring structure to their days.

Debra Bournes

Debra Bournes is the vice president of clinical services at the Ottawa Hospital. (CBC News)

"Having them in a room with nothing to do creates challenges," said Bournes, who added it was the hospital who initiated the pilot now being funded through the Local Integrated Health Network.

"It was creating safety issues for both the staff and for the patients who were involved."

Bournes said boredom and frustration were leading to violent outbursts, but since the developmental workers started spending time with individual patients, they've seen fewer incidents of violent behaviour.

Brother's quality of life improved, says sister

Jennifer Neve's brother Michael lives at the Civic campus of the Ottawa Hospital. At 26, Michael has autism, is developmentally delayed and has mental health issues. Without a proper home, he's lived on a psychiatric ward for more than two years.

Jennifer neve autism hospital bed ottawa

Jennifer Neve hopes a group home spot opens up soon for her brother Michael. (CBC)

Neve said since her brother started the pilot project, his quality of life has improved. He gets visits and outings with community care workers who visit him every morning and afternoon.

"The hospital is a band-aid solution," said Neve. "It's an exciting new thing, a phenomenal group of behaviourists. They take him to play basketball, walks, mini putting. They've really helped him bring about great deal of structure in daily routine."

Neve said one of requirements to get into group home is to be part of a day program, so it's important they've found one that is a good fit for Michael.

The ultimate goal is to get Michael into a group home.

Pilot is only an interim fix

Bournes said she doesn't see this project as the ultimate solution.

"No matter what, hospitals aren't the places where these individuals should be living on a long-term basis," said Bournes.

She said what is really needed is more resources to find homes where they're connected with developmental services workers that have activities every day.

The funding for the pilot project runs out at the end of March, but Bournes said the hospital is hopeful the funding will be renewed.