Angels in uniform keeping people where they belong

At home where they belong; Marg and Wally Gercovich
At home where they belong; Marg and Wally Gercovich

WHEN Wally Gercovich suffered two strokes and two heart attacks in just under four years, his wife Marg was advised to put him into full-time care.

But Wally's devoted - and very tenacious - spouse of 45 years flatly refused to do so.

Having already used Ballarat District Nursing and Healthcare since his 2010 strokes, Mrs Gercovich knew they would have all the support they needed to keep her husband in their Wendouree home.

Since his second stroke left him paralysed down the left-hand side and unable to walk unaided, two BDNH nurses have showered Mr Gercovich three times a week using a special shower chair.

They are also on-call 24/7 for any medical emergencies, with a few late night call-outs needed over the years.

"It gives me peace of mind," Mrs Gercovich said.

"If I have any questions I can ask the nurses and it's good to have that feedback from them that all is going well."

Despite his medical condition, Mr Gercovich still gives his TAB phone account a good workout and often passes on quaddie tips to his nurses.

"They're good to chat to and easy to get on with. They're good scouts," he said.

"They're very good at what they do."

Mr Gercovich, who is also a mad Carlton supporter and loved playing golf using a cart before his heart attacks last year, also tries to stay as independent as possible.

For example, the couple has set up their own slow and steady system of getting Mr Gercovich out of bed and into his wheelchair.

"Wal does so much himself, with his good side. We've worked out you don't hurry, you do everything in your own time," Mrs Gercovich said.

BDNH nurse Maree McKenzie agreed it was very important for clients to maintain their independence.

"We don't do for people what they can do for themselves," she said.

Ms McKenzie has been a district nurse for 18 years and wouldn't do anything else.

"It's challenging and always changing," she said.

"Every day's different but it's always rewarding, especially supporting loved ones to stay at home.

"I get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing people being able to maintain life in their home with their families."

Ms McKenzie said the 50 full and part-time BDNH nurses carried out a wide range of jobs, including medication administration, injections, diabetic care, wound dressings, palliative care in conjunction with Hospice, and hygiene care.

They also support and advise families and carers, provide referrals to other services and liaise with GPs and specialists.

Client assessments are carried out every three months to ensure the service delivery matches needs.

Ms McKenzie said the nurses worked in specific geographic areas, with her round being north Brown Hill, with specialist nurses in diabetes and stomal therapy.

But there's a key role that Ms McKenzie accidentally leaves out of her job description.

"The nurses have a lot of fun with us too," Mrs Gercovich said with a smile.

At BDNH's newly renovated Sturt Street headquarters, intake officer and HACC response co-ordinator Deidre Buijs fields calls about potential clients.

"I ask them what they need and work out what services they could use," Ms Buijs said.

If needed, she sends an assessment officer to do a detailed 90 minute check-up and helps them link in with services like Meals on Wheels or local government agencies.

"Or they could need a whole combination."

If the client's needs are urgent, Ms Buijs sends a nurse to help straight away before worrying about an assessment.

"We just get whatever care they need immediately. We prioritise, almost like a triage system."

In her other role, Ms Buijs runs the HACC response alarm system, which is set up for clients who doesn't have a family member within 30 minutes of their home.

BDNH also has two nurse coordinators, who decides which nurses will see which clients, and a community care director who does clinical governance, people management, quality control, business management and is the senior clinician.

Two podiatrists also provide services from BDNH, including biomechanics, ingrown toenails, corns, callouses, specialised wound care and help with ulcers.

Senior podiatrist Adrian Misseri said the pair sees about 400 clients a month.

"It's a busy little clinic," he said.

Another BDNH venture is an IT client management system called UNITI, currently used by more than 70 health care agencies across Victoria and Tasmania to manage client information and service delivery.

Chief executive officer Joanne Gell heads up the management team and said the BDNH emphasis was all about supporting people to be independent.

"It's not about going into people's homes and doing things for them," Ms Gell said.

"We get up with the purpose of supporting the community and I'm quite proud of the way we can go about that."

Over the past 12 months, BDNH has made 67,246 visits into the homes of Ballarat and district residents, equating to 1390 clients and 5015 podiatry visits.

"It is estimated that by providing health care direct into people's homes, the services saves well over $4 million in hospital avoidance, such as visits to emergency departments and inpatient stays, as well as allowing people to return home quickly and with the support they need," she said.


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