17 April, 2007

Uniting Church Throws Chronically Ill People Out On Their Ear

The Uniting Church in Australia runs a hospital in Brisbane, Queensland: the Wesley Hospital. In this hospital, is a hydrotherapy pool. The pool treats about five hundred patients a week, thousands of patients each year. And the Uniting Church is about to close this pool, throwing all those patients out. They made the announcement a couple of weeks ago that the pool will close sometime between July and September this year. Unfortunately, there are almost no other hydrotherapy pools in Brisbane, none in the local area, and those that there are, are already fully utilised.

Some of the people who use the Wesley Hospital pool are patients of the hospital who need it as part of their post-operative, acute care, or who have just suffered a stroke or hip or knee operation. The great majority (85% to 90%) are chronic sufferers with problems like cerebral palsy, arthritis, or scoliosis. The main reason they need physiotherapy in a pool, rather than on dry land, is because their particular problems mean that they cannot do the exercises that will improve their mobility without the support that buoyancy provides – it is simply too painful or damaging to exercise outside the pool.

Hospital doctors and physiotherapists, other referring consultants and local GPs, all agree that the hydrotherapy pool provides a vital service which is essential not only to short term recovery but also to the long-term mobility, pain management and quality of life of thousands of people. So why is the Uniting Church throwing all these desperately needy patients out? Well, the strategy of the hospital seems to have changed. They want to concentrate more on acute patients than on chronic ones. So they are going to build a new building to put lots more acute beds in and for this, they need the site that the hydrotherapy pool now occupies.

Seems odd that a church would show so little compassion. Since there are, effectively, no alternative facilities for these patients, they all face a future in which their mobility will quickly decline and their level of chronic pain will rapidly increase. Some face a return to the wheelchairs they have struggled to get out of. Some may even face amputations if they don't keep their limbs mobile. I was at a public meeting this evening where a packed auditorium was 'informed' by the church of its plans to dump them. It was an incredibly moving event as people stood up and told their stories – a man who feared for his paraplegic son, a woman who knew she could not go on working without the mobility the pool gave her, a woman who was desperately frightened that she might lose her arm, a man with cerebral palsy who was scared that all the work he had put into being able to sit up in his wheelchair would be undone without the pool.

Through it all, the hospital managers and other bureaucrats from the church sat stony-faced and unmoved, repeating over and over their jargon-filled 'explanations' for why they planned to ruin all these lives, which amounted to this: they had to provide more private beds for acute care to compete in the modern private health market, they hadn't been aware of any real need for a hydrotherapy pool, and it was now too late to change their plans.

Nice to know the Uniting Church cares so much about people, isn't it?

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