Watch: Intermediate Care Facility opens on University of Limerick campus

Cleaners prepare the Intermediate Care Facility at University of Limerick for the arrival of its first patients. Photo: Cian Reinhardt

A UNIQUE collaboration between University of Limerick and UL Hospitals Group has led to the opening of an Intermediate Care Facility (ICF) on the grounds of the UL campus with 25 patients to arrive in the next week.

The 68-bed facility will operate 24/7 with a standard medical team, and had a construction cost of almost €1 million with the medical equipment being provided centrally by the HSE.

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Professor Paul Burke, Executive Lead for the project, told the press, “at the moment we have 25 to 30 patients who we can immediately identify that can be brought here.

“We have been using a facility at Croom for a lot of that at the moment, now as we crank back up our standard work a lot of those patients will come out here.”

The ICF is a fully staffed and fully equipped Model One hospital facility that will provide care for non-Covid patients who are fit for discharge from any of the acute hospitals in UL Hospitals Group, but who would benefit from further rehabilitation, or may be waiting to go into long term care.

Professor Burke believes the “rehabilitation component” of the facility will be very strong, and as families and patients realise that “there may be greater demand for it”.

“We would hope to get up to 50 patients here, but obviously we have the capacity for more if we have the unanticipated surge,” he said.

Open to accept patients from today, the 68-bed facility, with capacity to scale up to 84 beds, is laid out in partitioned wards, and is fitted out with a typical ward support accommodation such as clean and dirty utilities, pharmacy, pantry, staff change, clinical treatment areas, two recreation areas, and four enclosed rooms.

Staffed by all grades, and expected to be in place until at least September with an option to extend until November, the ICF will be an invaluable interim means for hospital care management.

When asked by the Limerick Post if the November date is worrying as this is what is usually the beginning of flu season, Professor Burke said, “We would hope at the stage we will have our own beds open in Dooradoyle. We are working things on that basis.

“The whole healthcare delivery at the moment is in a fluid dynamic state, and we have to respond to things as we see them evolve. At the moment we are planning, basically, from a resources point of view, have those 98 beds equipped and staffed in Dooradoyle by November. And obviously a lot of staff from here would move over there.”

UL Hospitals Group is working with community and national colleagues to increase both intermediate care and permanent acute hospital bed capacity for the region before the end of the year.

The ICF has grown out of the closely collaborative relationship between UL Hospitals Group and its academic partner, the University of Limerick. It has been developed as a contingency facility, and a solution to the patient flow and crowding challenges experienced in the region’s hospitals during the pandemic.

UL President Dr Des Fitzgerald, who first mooted the idea of a field hospital on the UL campus, said, “Public and private organisations came together to support our hospital and care facilities across this region. It is this partnership approach that has also led to the establishment of the Mid-West Institute for Infectious Diseases at UL, which will serve our community in the short and long term against this and future pandemics.

Dr Fitzgerald noted UL’s Arena facility will not be available for use in semester 1 of the academic year “in the way in which we normally would”.

“Repurposing the Arena as a care facility allows UL to remain at the centre of our region’s response to this pandemic,” he said.

“The ICF will provide a unique opportunity for training of UL healthcare students and has significant potential for research for the University. It is likely that there will be patients who have recovered from Covid-19 and this would be the ideal situation to observe their continued recovery from a disease with largely unknown long-term consequences,” Dr Fitzgerald concluded.

Speaking ahead of the arrival of the first patients to the facility this Monday, Colette Cowan, CEO of UL Hospitals Group said she was honoured to be present for the opening of the facility on the campus of UL Hospitals Group’s academic partner.

“The Interim Care Facility will be a vital strategic element in UL Hospitals Group’s efforts to manage patient flow at a time when there is such significant demand for our services,” Ms Cowan explained.

“Area Crisis Management Teams have devised Intermediate Care Plans in the event of a resurgence of COVID-19. This is especially relevant in the Mid-West where baseline bed capacity is lower and there is limited private hospital capacity.

“We are working with community colleagues on further increasing intermediate care once we vacate the UL Arena. In addition, there are four new-build projects within our Group that will deliver up to 122 new beds for the region.

“The 60-bed block at UHL is due for completion before the end of 2020, while two single-room en-suite blocks (one 24-bed, and one 14-bed) are scheduled for completion at the UHL site by the late summer.

“A separate 24-bed single-room en-suite block is being built at Croom Orthopaedic Hospital, and that too is due to be completed by the end of the summer,” she said.

Fiona Steed, Group Lead, Allied Health, UL Hospitals, said, “A significant number of Health & Social Care Professionals will be on site in the ICF, so patients will benefit from a complete, multi-disciplinary approach to their ongoing treatment needs, from occupational therapists, physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, medical social workers and dietitians. We are also fortunate that from Week 2, we will be able to accommodate students from UL in the areas of speech and language therapy, physiotherapy and dietetics. The means that patient experience in the ICF will be enhanced, and the facility will also support the learning needs of our students.”