Integrated Healthcare

South West Healthcare

The organisation has pooled all of its resources, and with a galvanising effort has changed the way it brings healthcare to the public in the Warrnambool district of Victoria. Its business plan makes sense; the new $26 million Warrnambool Community Health facility just opened in November but is already being looked at as a model for healthcare in Australia. We spoke with CEO John Krygger about the brilliance of simple logic, and what makes the new facility so unique.

Previously, all of the area’s primary care, community health, allied health, mental health and dental clinics were scattered throughout the city, in residential houses and rented premises. South West Healthcare’s new facility has brought them all together for the very first time. “It’s great to have all those disciplines under one roof,” explains Mr Krygger. “It’s been quite an exciting development. A number of our staff who have worked with us for many years has been working in isolation; now they are finding that they have colleagues and new friends as a result of this new initiative.” SWH currently has 260 (of its total 1,247 employees) located there.

It must have been quite daunting in the beginning – the logistics of organising all of the departments under one new roof. But a detailed and lengthy planning period enabled SWH to move relatively seamlessly through the process. Only 12 months ago, a brand new acute hospital was completed, so that experience helped with the new transition.

Nothing this big will go off without at least some minor challenges, and Mr Krygger explains that there were some early IT glitches. “There were some inevitable challenges associated with it, but putting that aside the facility is very bright, naturally well lit, and a very welcoming environment,” he says. The staff have been glowing in their praise of the new facility, and indeed the patients that are arriving are saying how lucky they are to have these facilities in our city.”

To be the best, you have to employ the best, and the team at South West Healthcare boasts a state-wide reputation in a couple of key areas. The first such area is hand therapy which is an occupational therapy discipline, and in which one of the facility’s practitioners has a national reputation. SWH also has a nurse practitioner on staff who is an international expert on wound management. She is currently the international president of the Wound Management Association, and works out of the new SWH facility.

Some of the vacated medical centres are presently scheduled for demolition as they were beyond their working life. Others were rented premises which have been placed back on the market, and yet others have been taken up by other disciplines. What was happening previously is that patients would have to traverse all over the city for various appointments. “Now they come to one centre and this model of care that we have put in place enables a patient to be at the centre of this particular model of care,” says Mr Krygger. “The clinicians will meet with the patient and work as part of an inter-disciplinary team.” It is certainly advantageous from a service delivery point of view as well as from the patient’s perspective.

The new facility has become a model for other districts as well. Adding to its unique approach, SWH houses a General Practitioner clinic at its entrance, making primary care accessible and accommodating to patients. “It was a strategic decision to have our own private general practice clinic, so that we could create a seamless transfer,” explains Mr Krygger. “Quite often you go to a GP and they refer you to a dietician, or a diabetic nurse, you might need some podiatry assessments etc, and to the general population the vast range of services that a health service provides are unknown to them – unless you know how to navigate the health system. Unless you’ve got a GP who is fully versed on the range of services that are available, quite often these patients don’t get the optimum level of care that they require.” As a response, SWH maintains six GP cubicles and has currently employed three GPs in the new clinic. In the new year, the plan is to expand to full capacity. It will end up being quite a significant private practice.

It’s one thing to have the right structure in place, but most importantly, the staff needs to epitomise the new philosophy through competence and character. One of the jewels in the crown of this new facility is that SWH has a clinical school on site. It is called the Deakin University Clinical School, and it trains doctors locally. This gives aspiring medical students a chance to be part of the GP rotation. “If they have an interest in general practice, this is a wonderful learning opportunity. As an acute hospital we tend to train doctors to become specialists, but there is also a branch of medicine and requirements for GPs, the family medical practitioners, and by offering general practice here on site, we provide the training program for those particular individuals who have an interest in this area.”

SWH also has geography on its side. Located on the SW coastline of Victoria, the facility boasts breathtaking sea views. As we spoke, Mr Krygger described the whitecaps he could see on the ocean. I was looking at the drizzle on my windows. Such a view can only help when trying to recruit the best and brightest, but underpinning the beautiful surroundings is a positive and supportive workplace culture. A number of doctors that come down to Warrnambool to commence their student training or their intern training are still there 30 years later.

Traditionally, health services can be a sterile, clinical type of environment, but SWH has changed all of that. Its warm, friendly and welcoming environment is emphasised through its architectural design. A coffee shop at the front door replaces that ‘hospital smell’ with the aroma of fresh coffee, while the interior boasts bright colours and attractive courtyards. When people interact with health services it can make them anxious, but this new facility is inviting and accessible.

Instead of an illness model, SWH can be seen as part of a ‘wellness model.’ “It’s quite a different mindset when you look at it through that lens,” says Mr Krygger. “The wellness model is all about prevention, health promotion, and people managing their own health care. We encourage people to do that. We educate them on appropriate dietary intake, exercise regimes and when they should access health services.” It is a true partnership between the clinicians and the patients, who take responsibility for themselves. SWH works to empower the patient to think long term through education.

Mental health services are another important component of the new strategy. Logic dictates that people with mental health issues often also have general health issues. Largely, though, these have been treated as separate entities. “With the integration that we have as part of this service, we can now provide a holistic range of health services to encompass the patient’s total health needs, whether that be general health or mental health, because they are related in many respects. We have had to de-stigmatize the mental health component as well because it’s quite prevalent throughout the world.”

SWH has already received accolades from the industry. In 2011, it was rated the Regional Health Service of the Year, and in the local business district, Business of the Year. “What these awards do is to provide a tangible reward to our staff,” says Mr Krygger, “to let them know that they are doing a sensational job. It’s a great morale builder and a good way to advertise how well and wide our reputation is. Success builds further success and that is the way we market these particular awards.”

As for the future, SWH is presently completing a business plan for the development of a regional cancer centre which includes the provision of radiotherapy, which is a service that is currently not provided. The closest radiotherapy centre is two hours away in Geelong. The organisation presently offers the first two tiers of cancer treatment, which encompass chemotherapy and surgical services, so this would provide the third tier. It is a highly specialised service. Further to that, SWH has additional redevelopment plans with its operating theatre and emergency department, which has experienced exponential growth in recent years.

There is a lot to be positive about when it comes to the new SWH facility in Warrnambool. It is aesthetically pleasing, inviting, colourful and warm. It strives to be a “one-stop shop” for everyone’s medical needs. Quite simply, it represents the future of healthcare. In order for it to flourish it needs the involvement of the community. As John Kryyger puts it, “In regional areas your whole service is owned by the community, and you need to act like an owner and support it. You need to support your health service whichever way you can – as a volunteer, or by providing some support to our fundraising campaigns. We truly wish to engage with our community. And we need people to support us.”

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October 20, 2018, 11:02 AM AEDT

Chance of Rain
Today 10/20 90%
Chance of Rain
Mostly cloudy. Periods of light rain this morning. High 16C. SSW winds at 5 to 10 km/h, increasing to 15 to 30 km/h. Chance of rain 70%.

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