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Tetraplegia patients have say in the new design

November 2014

Tetraplegia patients are actively helping St George’s Hospital design new specialised spinal injury rooms, ensuring the facilities meet their unique needs.

Palmerston North man Rene Redmond has been a tetraplegic for 32 years after he suffered a broken neck in a diving accident in 1982. In the past three years he has undergone two operations at St George’s and was recently asked to provide a patient perspective into the design.

St George’s is rebuilding some of its facilities due to earthquake damage. Included in the plans are three state-of-the-art rooms for spinal injury patients.

“As someone with high-level disability it was an honour to help fine-tune the plans from an end-user viewpoint,” says Rene, who works fulltime as company director of drone manufacturing business Skycam.

“When tetraplegia patients need to go into hospital it can be quite a foreign environment, as everything is completely different to what we are used to at home. Having the chance to influence the hospital design to ensure it is comfortable and equipped with the necessary facilities was a privilege.”

Suggestions from Rene and his fellow patients included the best design and position of the bathroom vanity unit, which was moved into the corner of the room to ensure ample space for a wheelchair. The bed position was changed to allow freedom of movement on both sides, and the ICU and ward rooms were kept as similar as possible.

“No two people in wheelchairs are the same as we all have different levels of ability. It is important to ensure the space flows well and everything is within easy reach,” says Rene.

Many tetraplegia patients undergo surgery at St George’s as it is the only private hospital in the South Island that has a dedicated Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Patients with disabilities are at higher risk of complications and need closer monitoring in the ICU during the immediate post-op period.

St George’s Patient Care Manager Rae Green says the input from tetraplegia patients has been invaluable.

“When embarking on this design process we were adamant that the spinal patients would be involved as they are the experts – not us. We can only presume what it’s like,” says Rae.

“We spoke directly to inpatients and their carers too when possible. Later they received the updated design plans and they came back to us with their suggestions on how to fine-tune the facility to better meet their needs.

“Some even sent through images of their own home environment as practical examples, which was really beneficial. As a result we will have a facility that is not only accessible but comfortable and familiar.”

St George’s chief executive Greg Brooks says research shows health care services are improved when the perspectives of patients and their families are included in the design or delivery of care.

“A recent study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal cites the potential value of improving healthcare through the use of co-design and recommends that the practice becomes more widespread throughout New Zealand."

Rene was 25 years old when he had his accident, and spent seven months in the Otara Spinal Unit undergoing rehabilitation. He has been under the care of Christchurch neurosurgeon Nick Finnis in recent years and continues to make the trip from Palmerston North when he needs specialist care.

Rene’s latest procedure was in 2013 to insert a pump in his stomach that delivers medication directly into the spinal fluid to control severe spasms.

“I am hoping that I don’t need any further operations in the near future and that the new spinal rooms at St George’s will be gathering dust by the time I need to use them,” says Rene.


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