November 4, 2015 5:11 pm
Updated: November 5, 2015 2:01 pm

Not an inner-city hospital: Who uses St. Paul’s?

WATCH: One of the biggest challenges of building the new St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver is making it inclusive for all British Columbians, including the fastest growing segment of our population. Randene Neill explains.

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Every year there are 500,000 patient visits to St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. And while most people would believe the majority of patients come from the city, in fact more than half of the patients who visit are from outside Vancouver.

One of the biggest challenges of a new St. Paul’s is building a hospital that is inclusive for everyone, including the fastest growing segment of our populations — seniors.

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In the third part of Global News‘ series on St. Paul’s, we look at who will be using the new state of the art health care facility.

Managing seniors’ health care is becoming more of a challenge at the aging St. Paul’s Hospital. It is in large part due to the geriatrics and elder care department being located on the 9th floor, which makes the trek difficult for the frail and elderly. But that’s where once a week, seniors who have fallen, go to get their physiotherapy.

Shelagh Lawson is in her 90s, is fiercely independent and hates going to St. Paul’s.

“There’s no entrance for the HandyDART at the Comox Street entrance,” Lawson says.

“All the outpatient clinics are all there. So you get dumped at Comox Street and that’s a five minute walk when you are young and agile but when you’re old and decrepit, it’s a crumbly way. You have to walk all the way around to Comox Street or you have to go through the hospital and all those elevators. It’s miles.”

WATCH: Shelagh Lawson and her caregiver Dr. Janet Kushner Kow explain to Global BC‘s Randene Neill the difficulties of accessing care and how the new St. Paul’s Hospital will help BC seniors.

Instead, St. Paul’s goes to Lawson. Geriatric specialist Dr. Janet Kushner Kow makes house calls and while it may be less efficient, she says it’s worth it if it keeps Lawson out of the hospital.

READ MORE: Why do we need a new St. Paul’s Hospital?

House calls and physiotherapy classes are just a few ways the new St. Paul’s Hospital, which will be built three kilometres away from the Burrard Street site beside the Vancouver train station, will help transform health care.

Providence Health is also looking at building a ‘dementia village’, which offers the promise of a more hopeful kind of care for people suffering from the disorder. The concept is based on De Hogeweyk, a gated model village in Weesp, Netherlands, which has been designed as a pioneering care facility for elderly people with dementia.

WATCH MORE: 16×9 — Inside the world of dementia, as a painful reality sets in

Another idea for the new St. Paul’s Hospital that’s already being used at Mount St. Joseph Hospital in Vancouver is geriatric nurses in the emergency department.

“I think we are in the midst of a demographic shift that I think 50 years from now, the aging population now will almost double,” says Gigi Fong, a geriatric emergency room nurse at Mount St. Joseph Hospital.

“I think there’s that looking forward, we need to plan ahead because we know that weight is coming because seniors’ care is a big issue on the table.”

Seniors now make up 40 per cent of all visits to St. Paul’s emergency and they tend to get admitted more often, stay longer and cost an estimated three times as much as a non-senior.

But the biggest portion of patients who attend St. Paul’s do not live in Vancouver.

READ MORE: What B.C.’s new St. Paul’s Hospital will look like

Last year 57 per cent of the patients came from outside Vancouver for world-class service. Patients like Jillian Code, a heart transplant survivor from Victoria, who has been coming to the Vancouver hospital for 10 years.

“The idea of leaving my team here is like leaving your extended family and you have to get used to a whole new team,” Code says.

“I will make the effort to come here. But this is the only transport centre, the only place that does heart transplants… so we have to come here.”

Like Code, Rowena and her daughter Asia Dagley travel from Nanaimo two times a year to see their specialist at the Centre for Heart Lung Innovation at St. Paul’s Hospital. St. Paul’s is also the Canadian leader in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (OPD) care, renal and kidney care, HIV/AIDS and many others.

The patients who rely on the hospital are happy it’s moving.

“I was so happy, I was so happy,” Code says.

“Having to spend a lot of times in these walls, it can be wearing. The people make a difference, but when you are sitting in your room, and the walls are peeling, and there’s brown spots on stuff… you know, the environment makes a huge difference. It really does.”

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