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Back home, SAFE and sound: New level of care for frail seniors improves outcomes

SAFE – Sub-Acute Care for Frail Elderly – is a 20-bed program in Ottawa designed for frail seniors recovering in hospital from surgery or short-term illnesses.

Eligible patients move from acute-care hospitals to the SAFE unit, where they can access the individualized medical and restorative care they need to recover and return home as soon as possible. SAFE patients receive daily medical and nursing care in a home-like environment. Seniors also enjoy access to Perley Rideau’s therapeutic recreation and creative arts program, along with physiotherapists, occupational therapies, and social workers.

The innovative pilot project, designed to improve outcomes for frail seniors was established two years ago at the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre in partnership with The Ottawa Hospital (TOH). An independent, peer-reviewed evaluation published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association (JAMDA), found that SAFE patients recover significantly better than those who remain in hospital.

The evaluation compared the 153 older adults who transferred to SAFE during its first year of operation and a control group of approximately 1,700 similar patients who remained in hospital. A significant difference was noted between the two groups with SAFE patients having complex disease profiles—more of them suffered from ailments such as heart disease or cancer. Despite this difference, SAFE patients still had shorter stays in hospital, were more likely to be discharged to home, required less follow-up care, and were no more likely to visit a hospital emergency room or require hospital readmission in the following months.

“Ultimately, everyone wants patients to get well enough to return home as soon as possible, and that’s exactly what SAFE helps to achieve,” says Dr. Benoît Robert, Perley Rideau’s Medical Director. “It’s good for patients and for the healthcare system.” The evaluation of SAFE was led by the Centre of Excellence in Frailty-Informed Care, in partnership with the Bruyère Research Institute and ICES (formerly the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences). The Centre of Excellence, established at Perley Rideau in 2019, conducts and shares the applied research needed to properly care for frail seniors.

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