Dozens of elderly people are stuck in Canberra’s hospitals waiting for places in aged care facilities as homes opened last year reach capacity much earlier than expected.
Care providers say they are caught between blockages in the system and the expectations of residents and their families.
According to ACT Health, there were a total of 52 elderly patients awaiting placement in the public system in mid May, including 29 patients at the Canberra Hospital.
General manager at Calvary Retirement Community Deborah Booth said that number had reached 56 patients within the past two weeks, and didn’t include patients in the private health system who were also waiting for beds to open up.
She said the delays added pressure to an already delicate field of care.
“You’ve got systems pressures, you’ve got personal pressures, you’ve got family pressures, and really it’s a tightrope you’ve got to walk,” she said.
"You’re aware of people’s needs and feelings and also fears; nobody ever wakes up in the middle of the night and thinks, ‘Oh, I’d like to go to a nursing home today.’”
Ms Booth said the ''gridlock'' in beds could have a flow-on effect on admissions in both hospitals and aged-care facilities.
''Those things always then put pressure on your normal admissions,'' she said.
The gridlock put pressure on aged-care providers to take clients from hospitals rather than community care, she said.
New beds due to become available later this year could ease the pressure, Ms Booth said, as could the federal government's Living Longer, Living Better reform, which comes into effect in 12 months.
The Living Longer, Living Better package focuses on community-based care, with the aim of keeping Australia's ageing population in their homes for longer.
Ms Booth said it was ''clever forward-thinking'' but warned it could complicate care options in the short term.
An executive manager at Goodwin aged care Jim Purcell said the aged-care reforms lacked financial balance, and could place dual pressure on the community to deal with needs of the elderly, and on facilities to continue providing financially viable residential care.
''That's not a bad strategy in terms of helping to deal with the [ageing population] problem but there will always be a need for residential aged care,'' Mr Purcell said.
''It's a matter of balancing the more complex care needs of people in residential aged care with the desirable option of keeping them at home,'' he said.
Mr Purcell said Goodwin was operating at 100 per cent capacity and a 100-bed facility opened last year in Monash was already close to full, about 12 months quicker than they expected.
''With an ageing population, and the complex care needs becoming greater and greater, there will be continuing demand for residential aged care,'' he said.
Mr Purcell said it was important elderly people didn't wait until they urgently needed care to make inquiries.
Instead, they should investigate options earlier in life.