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Hospital promises to fix system after elderly woman left out in cold

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A senior doctor at the Lyell McEwin Hospital has apologised and promised to change the triage system after a 92-year-old woman and other patients were left to wait in the cold outside the emergency department.

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Hospital promises to fix system after elderly woman left outside

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It comes after the family of Maureen Wortley spoke out, posting on Facebook images of the great-grandmother on her walker outside the emergency department on Sunday night after a fall, saying she was left waiting two hours in the cold in her dressing gown without being offered a blanket or wheelchair before she was eventually admitted.

Premier Peter Malinauskas ordered an urgent investigation, describing the situation as a “substantial stuff-up”.

The woman’s family explained that part of the problem was that patients are required to undergo a COVID rapid antigen test in an outside triage area before being allowed inside the ED, and while she had received a negative test soon after her arrival, that had not been communicated properly within the hospital.

Dr Penny Conor, divisional director of critical care in the Northern Adelaide Local Health Network, yesterday afternoon apologised “unreservedly” to Maureen Wortley and her family, saying “there was a bit of miscommunication between a couple of emergency staff in the triage space and the staff who do the RAT tests”.

“I probably wouldn’t describe it as a substantial stuff-up, but yes we could have done better,” she said.

Conor said the hospital had set up an “external COVID screening tent” to try to reduce any potential spread within the emergency department.

“We’ve done it this way at Lyell McEwin because the northern part of Adelaide is one of the lowest-vaxxed communities in the state and we feel very strongly that we need to protect and look after the vulnerable in the community as much as we can,” she said.

“That’s why we have the process outside. In a perfect world the process should take about 20 minutes. And anyone who has urgent medical need is taken straight into the department however if the need is not that urgent they have that external RAT test… and that process should take about 20 minutes.”

Conor said to improve the system for patients going forward, the triage and rapid antigen testing processes would be moved inside, with all patients and their families provided N95 masks, rather than being required to wear just surgical masks.

“We will aim to move our triage practices inside and not do it externally because… we note that after hours it can get cold,” she said.

“So only in times of surge or overcapacity will we need to move outside. And in addition to that we are going to put (on) another nursing resource to try and support this service and we’re going to make the amenities outside better by having improved seating and heating.”

Health Minister Chris Picton told ABC Radio Adelaide this morning that he visited the Lyell McEwin emergency department last night to make sure people were no longer required to wait outside.

Asked if there was a “divide” between SA Health and the Premier over his labelling of the incident as a “substantial stuff-up”, Picton said: “I’m not going to create some sort of fake fight over particular language used”.

“I think the head of the emergency department in her comments yesterday made it very clear that what happened wasn’t acceptable,” he said.

“My job as the health minister is, when issues such as this arise, to take action to make sure that we can provide care for patients, to make sure that we’ve got all of the resources and all the systems in place to make sure people get the appropriate care.”

The Opposition has called on Malinauskas to publicly release the results of the investigation into the woman’s care and to find out why her family was initially told there wasn’t an ambulance available to take her to hospital.

“News of ramping appears to have turned off like a tap since the state election, with this incident only coming to light after the family made a complaint on Peter Malinauskas’ own Facebook page,” the Liberals’ health spokesperson Ashton Hurn said.

“Labor said progress was being made on its health plans, but sadly all we’re seeing are South Australians left out in the cold.”

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