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Groundbreaking WBHHS trial brings mental health support into Hervey Bay homes

As a mum who had to watch her intellectually disabled adult son struggle to understand why he was being “locked up” in a mental health inpatient unit, Hervey Bay woman Joyce Lloyd truly recognises the value of receiving intensive mental health support in the comfort and familiarity of home.

Joyce’s son Andrew, 54, was one of the first consumers admitted to Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service’s Queensland-first service offering Hospital in The Home (HiTH) to mental health consumers on the Fraser Coast.

The aim of the two-year $4.4 million trial is to provide the same level of intensive mental health support as a consumer would receive in an inpatient unit – but in the comfort and familiarity of their everyday surroundings, and in the presence of their own family or support network.

“Andrew was previously hospitalised after a psychotic episode last year and transferred to the Maryborough Mental Health Inpatient Unit, but because of his intellectual disability, he struggled – and was terrified at the idea he could be ‘locked up’ forever,” Mrs Lloyd said.

“The last thing I wanted was for him to go back into the inpatient unit again. So when he had another episode recently, I was desperate for help. I knew Andrew’s recovery would be difficult in the inpatient unit because of his anxiety.”

Joyce rang the local WBHHS Community Health Centre at Hervey Bay, who referred Andrew into the newly created HiTH service, where he received support from an expert multidisciplinary team that included psychiatrist and psychologist support.

“They’ve been wonderful. The team came twice a day to check on Andrew, I could ring any other time with concerns and they offered total support, which enabled us to stay at home to deal with it,” she said.

“They’re all so kind and helpful, which made the whole thing so much easier.”

As part of the support provided by HiTH, one of the psychiatrists switched Andrew onto medication that better suited him, while other members of the team identified a way to extend his NDIS support with extra carers, including night-time care.

“It’s been absolutely brilliant. As a family we’re thoroughly, thoroughly grateful to the Hospital in The Home team,” Joyce said.

“Thanks to the team, Andrew’s recovery has been much quicker and has been in his home, where he is comfortable.”

Deputy Premier and Minister for Health Steven Miles said it was stories such as Andrew’s that reinforced just how successful mental health support services outside of a hospital setting can be.

“This is a real example of providing the right care, in the right place, at the right time,” Mr Miles said.

“The Mental Health Hospital in the Home program recognises that people need care that suits them, and that sometimes the right place for that care isn’t inside the walls of a hospital ward.

“This is a fantastic and innovative program, and we’ll be watching the trial closely to determine if it will be extended to other areas across the state.”

WBHHS Mental Health and Specialised Services Program Manager Cindy Mays said the virtual four-bed service provided multidisciplinary support for consumers, including from doctors, nurses, allied health staff and psychologists.

The team also includes peer support workers, who have lived experience of mental health challenges, and provide support and advocacy for consumers.

“An inpatient unit can be off-putting and not helpful to the recovery of some consumers – but in the past there haven’t been many alternative options for people who needed intensive support,” Ms Mays said.

“When the home environment is safe, it’s often the best place for people to receive that support from our mental health team, and the HiTH trial is enabling that to happen.

“I’m proud of the state-leading work our team has done to successfully launch this program, which is all about providing the best consumer-centred care.”

So far there have been 22 accepted referrals to the HiTH program since its inception, and WBHHS Mental Health HiTH team leader Anna Anderson said the initial results had been promising.

“At first we see our consumers very regularly – sometimes even twice a day – with our nurses, social workers and psychologist doing the initial assessment and a medical officer visiting them within 24 hours,” Ms Anderson said.

“While the program aims to reduce the need for inpatient admission, it receives full 24-hour support from the inpatient unit team and, if it’s needed, a patient can be transferred there.

“The goal is to provide a short-term stay in HiTH, so as the consumer’s condition improves, they transition into less frequent contact until we’re able to undertake discharge planning that hands over their support to a continuing care team or an NGO working in the community space.

“I think it’s amazing to see the way Mental Health HiTH is changing lives, and I’m really proud to be part of it.”

During the trial period, consumers who live within 30km of The Village community mental health facility, in Pialba, are eligible to be referred to the program.

Last updated: 8 September 2020