21 July 2023

Push for Queanbeyan respite facility ramps up as report finds unpaid carers save health system millions

| Claire Sams
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An artist's impression of a proposed respite care centre

An artist’s impression of the proposed respite care facility in Queanbeyan that QBN chair Paul Walshe hopes is a step closer after the release of a report. Image: Supplied.

The push to establish a respite centre in Queanbeyan is gaining momentum, with a new report finding such a service could save the ACT Government millions.

Yvonne Cuschieri House, which is being built by charity group Respite Care for QBN, will cater to carers and their loved ones aged 18 to 60, an age group with few suitable respite options.

The University of NSW Canberra report, commissioned by Respite for QBN, found a stay in non-clinical respite care reduced the overall cost burden of public hospital admissions of carers by 50 per cent, and cost as little as 10 per cent of an emergency department visit.

Carers are at increased risk of burnout, psychological distress and social isolation as they struggle to look after their loved ones full time.

Respite for QBN chair Paul Walshe described the report as “the ammunition that we’ve been looking for”.

“We can tuck this under our arms when we sit down with our Federal and State governments, and in particularly the health areas,” he said.

The report found that the facility, which has secured government funding to be built, warrants an ongoing commitment from the State and Federal governments to cover operational costs.

UNSW Canberra Associate Professor James Connor said respite was an essential service to reduce burnout, psychological distress and social isolation for carers.

“Unfortunately, 89 per cent of carers have never used respite services, primarily because there are so few suitable places they can take their loved one for respite,” Associate Professor Connor said.

“Consequently, carers soldier on without any break from their 24/7 caring duties, which places a huge burden on their mental and physical health.”

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The decision to engage a third party for research came as the charity looks to secure ongoing funding to keep the facility running.

Mr Walshe said: “We thought to ourselves, we need to get some evidence-based research.

“I’d heard on the grapevine that the University of NSW had done a report for Palliative Care ACT on their similar kind of respite care facility in Canberra, which is called Leo’s Place.

“I started looking online, and I found Associate Professor James Connor had done that report.”

Respite for QBN provided a brief to Associate Professor Connor and his team, and work began on the report, which found at least 4500 unpaid carers live in Queanbeyan.

A respite care facility would give carers a break and some time for themselves, Mr Walshe said.

“It means they can go on a holiday, they can go down to the shops, they can go to the movies or just chill at home,” he said.

“If they can do that while knowing their loved one is being looked after in a professionally run respite care facility, then we’ve achieved our goal.”

The push for a respite care centre in Queanbeyan dates back several years.

Queanbeyan resident Yvonne Cuschieri OAM proposed the idea after her son was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She and her husband became his carers.

“When Yvonne’s son Steven was left paralysed following a brain tumour and required constant care, the only option was to move him into a nursing home,” Mr Walshe said.

“This never sat well with Yvonne.

“It inspired her to support others by building a new, non-clinical respite facility in Queanbeyan that is suitable for 18 to 60-year-olds, for whom aged-care respite is often the only option.”

While Ms Cuschieri died in 2021, Mr Walshe said the charity she helped to launch was continuing to push for a respite care centre in her name.

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He said a nearby respite centre could drastically change the lives of carers living in and around Queanbeyan.

“If you’re a carer, it’s a seven-day-a-week, 24-hours-a-day, 365-day commitment,” he said.

“You don’t have an alternative; you just have to keep doing it.

“At the end of the day, if you were doing your job every day for 365 days a year, I think you’d be in a bit of burnout.”

Mr Walshe said the group was waiting for a construction certificate from Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council, with Yvonne Cuschieri House expected to be operational by mid-next year.

Original Article published by Claire Sams on Riotact.

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