Working for country newspapers and radio stations, Leigh Dickinson travelled hundreds of kilometres in various jobs. But since he suffered a diabetic coma two years ago, his horizons have shrunk to a hospital ward. Brain damage has burnt through his memories and speech; his eyesight is failing as his blood sugar still soars and plummets to dangerous levels from uncontrolled diabetes.
At the age of 35, Mr Dickinson is on waiting lists for a place in a nursing home, a fate his family reluctantly accepts. Like about 6500 other Australians under 50, his nursing needs are too intensive to allow him to get by with family help.
After several hypoglycaemic episodes, he was admitted last October to Footscray’s Western Hospital and has never left. While he gets 24-hour special attendant care in the hospital, his diabetes and epilepsy disqualify him from a place on brain-injury rehabilitation programs that would help him recover mentally.
”We’re running out of options,” said his father Neil Dickinson, 71, a pensioner who travels from Albury every fortnight to visit his son. ”A nursing home isn’t really set up for his needs. He’s not getting rehab and he’s bored out of his mind. He’s a social animal, Leigh.”
He understands perfectly well. No, he says, no friends come to see him. Yes, he wants to leave the hospital. What does he wish he could do again? ”Fishing,” he says.
Bronwyn Morkham, director of the National Alliance of Young People in Nursing Homes, says young people are stranded in nursing homes because they slip through the cracks.
A federal-state alliance to combat the issue invested $244 million over five years on programs to bridge the divide between nursing care and rehabilitation.
But the program has been in a hiatus since July last year, even though it reduced the number of people under 50 in nursing homes by 39 per cent. While the federal government has committed another $122 million for a further five years, none of the states have signed up again. ”As a result, the program has stalled in that it has no capacity to take on new applicants,” Dr Morkham said.
While Victoria does provide $9.4 million to fund services for young people at risk of moving into nursing homes, it’s a slow, uncertain and complex business co-ordinating state and federal departments.
”Molly Meldrum’s all over the news with his recovery,” said Neil Dickinson. ”He can get the rehab and therapy that he needs, and that’s great.
But some people don’t have access to those things.”
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