Perley Rideau pilot project helping patients get back on their feet

An ambitious pilot project at Ottawa's Perley Rideau Veterans' Health Centre is aiming to get patients back home sooner, while also helping to ease overcrowding at local hospitals.

Veteran hospital's 20-bed SAFE unit expected to save health-care system $700K per year

Diane Butt, a patient at The Perley Rideau Veteran Health Centre's SAFE unit, injured her foot in a fall. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

When Diane Butt tripped over her doorstep and fell last month, hurting her foot, her son dialled 911. She was transported to the General campus of the Ottawa Hospital, where she stayed for the next two weeks.

It wasn't that Butt, 66, necessarily needed to be there — doctors had done everything they could, and though Butt's injury hindered her mobility, only time would heal her.

It's frustrating because there's really no reason for you to stay there.- Diane Butt

"It's frustrating because there's really no reason for you to stay there," Butt said. "But you're not really capable of going home either."

Compounding her frustration was the knowledge that the hospital was overcrowded, and she was taking up valuable space.

According to the Champlain Local Health Integration Network's (LHIN) latest statistics, more than 200 patients in Ottawa are stuck in a similar situation, needlessly taking up much-needed hospital beds while they wait for more appropriate levels of care.

To help address that dilemma, a new pilot project — believed to be the first of its kind in Canada — is underway to transfer some patients, including Butt,  to a new unit at Ottawa's Perley and Rideau Veterans' Health Centre.

The 20-bed unit opened at the end of March with two main goals: to help ease overcrowding at local hospitals, and to offer patients the enhanced care they need to get back home within a month.
Diane Butt was the first patient to be transferred from the Ottawa Hospital to Perley Rideau as part of the pilot project. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

Hospital patients lose strength

It took four years and more than $1 million to launch Perley Rideau's SAFE unit for patients needing what's known as sub-acute care. The project is a partnership between the veterans' centre, the Ottawa Hospital and the Champlain LHIN.

We miss that early and important window of getting people back home.- Dr. Jeff Turnbull, Ottawa Hospital 

Dr. Jeff Turnbull played a major role in getting the project off the ground. During his time as chief of staff at the Ottawa Hospital, he witnessed frail, elderly patients who had undergone surgery, illness or accidents worsen rather than improve while they lay in hospital beds.

Those patients tended to lose strength quickly, Turnbull said. 

"A day in hospital where you're not moving is like a week that it takes to recover and get that strength back," Turnbull said. "We miss that early and important window of getting people back home."

Seniors hospitalized with pneumonia, for example, are often kept there so long they end up needing long-term care. Some patients languish in hospital for as long as eight months before a spot opens up, Turnbull said.

"We know the hospital is not the best place for them, and we have many other people who also need that service."

'Restorative care' helps patients return home

6 years ago
Duration 0:46
The Ottawa Hospital's Dr. Jeff Turnbull explains a new program to help frail elderly patients leave hospital sooner. It moves them from acute care beds to a new unit at the Perley and Rideau Veterans' Health Centre, which helps them build their strength to be able to return home.

Enhanced care at lower cost

At the new unit at Perley Rideau, doctors from the Ottawa Hospital check in on patients daily. Patients have access to occupational therapy and physiotherapy, dietitians plan their meals, and art and music programs keep them busy. 

We can provide more appropriate care at a lower cost.- Akos Hoffer, Perley Rideau CEO

Perley Rideau CEO Akos Hoffer said patients are immersed in a more social environment that encourages them to move around and eat meals with others rather than alone in their rooms.

"It's very easy to get engaged, and that can lead to a good recovery," Hoffer said.

With the proper care, patients can return home within 30 days and stay away from long-term care, Hoffer said.

"The main goal is not to save money, but that's a pleasant side effect," he said. "If you just think about how much a hospital bed costs per day, we can provide more appropriate care at a lower cost."

According to Perley Rideau, the program costs about $400 per patient, per day, compared to the roughly $1,000 per day it costs to keep them in a hospital bed.

The pilot project is an example of the measures Perley Rideau is taking to reinvent itself as veterans' ranks dwindle, and federal funding dwindles along with them.
Physiotherapy sessions offered to patients in the SAFE unit help them gain the strength they need to resume independent living. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

Expansion plans

Butt has been at Perley Rideau for two weeks now, and plans to return home by the end of the month.

She said she was "very leery" of the new unit at first, but now believes the program is helping her get back on her feet.

"There's more individual attention," Butt said. "I'm walking a lot more now.... I've got a lot more strength."

If the pilot project continues to prove itself, there are plans to double the unit to 40 beds, and a hope other facilities will adopt the model.

"We have a limited amount of time to prove that this works," Hoffer said. "Our intention would be to grow the program to open it to other hospitals as well."

Akos Hoffer is CEO of The Perley Rideau Veterans' Health Centre. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)