UNB project helps nursing home patients, takes pressure off hospitals

Rose McCloskey and Todd Gordon with the pilot project's van and X-ray machine. The van serves 13 nursing homes in the Saint John area.  (Lane Harrison/CBC - image credit)
Rose McCloskey and Todd Gordon with the pilot project's van and X-ray machine. The van serves 13 nursing homes in the Saint John area. (Lane Harrison/CBC - image credit)

A new pilot project from the University of New Brunswick and is making life less stressful for nursing home residents in Saint John while taking pressure off an overwhelmed hospital system.

The Radiography on Wheels Project, which is being conducted in collaboration with the Loch Lomond Villa facility, uses a small white van to bring X-ray services to 13 nursing homes and special care homes in the Saint John area.

Having those services bedside saves residents the long and stressful trips to the hospital known as home-to-hospital transfers.

"When a resident does go to the hospital, it does require an ambulance, it takes an emergency vehicle off the road. And each one of these ambulances has two paramedics. So it's quite resource intensive," said Rose McCloskey, a professor of nursing and health sciences at UNB Saint John who is leading the project.

By bringing the X-ray machine into the homes, the project has prevented about 275 home-to-hospital transfers since it began in May, McCloskey said. With the van operating five days a week, that number goes up almost every day.

Lane Harrison/CBC
Lane Harrison/CBC

According to the team's preliminary financial analysis, a mobile X-ray costs the health system about a third less than a traditional home-to-hospital transfer.

The project is being funded through a grant from the provincial Healthy Seniors Pilot Project, which will support the X-ray van through March 2023. After that, McCloskey hopes it can go province wide.

Lane Harrison/CBC
Lane Harrison/CBC

"So we have had some discussions, and we've had a lot of support from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Social Development and Horizon Health Network has been very supportive as well," she said.

"So we are hopeful that this will be a service that we can spread out."

Earlier this week, the project was given the 2022 innovation in person-centred care award from Planetree International, a global not-for-profit focused on putting patients at the centre of the care experience.

WATCH | How a pilot project is working to alleviate an overwhelmed hospital system: 

Giving patients a more pleasant experience

Aside from the resources home-to-hospital transfers can take up, they can also be an unpleasant experience for the patients living in nursing homes, McCloskey said.

"The residents, they are very anxious to get into the back of an ambulance, to drive across town, to get into the hospital and sit, sometimes on gurneys, to wait for these procedures," she said.

Lane Harrison/CBC
Lane Harrison/CBC

The project was born from years of research into the transportation of patients between nursing homes and hospitals. McCloskey said recent research found the average time it takes to send a patient to a hospital for an X-ray is five hours.

That long wait is a burden on patients and sometimes their families, McCloskey said.

"Oftentimes, families may have to leave work or take days off work to accompany their loved ones, particularly if they're confused or they have a lot of anxiety, to go to the hospital," she said.

Lane Harrison/CBC
Lane Harrison/CBC

With the van, things can happen much quicker, said Todd Gordon, the project's medical radiation technologist.

"From the time we get the call until we're back and the images are sent, it's an hour tops," he said.

"But on average, once we're on location, we're 15 minutes in and out of every location, which is pretty remarkable, right? Without [the patient] sitting in a waiting room for an hour."

McCloskey said there are other mobile X-ray services in Canada, but this is the first in the Atlantic provinces.

Taking pressure of the health-care system

In hospitals, many of these X-rays would be done through the emergency department. This means they're also impacted by the emergency room delays many hospitals in the province are experiencing, Gordon said.

"But having us come to the patient's needs at their bedside, it's patient-centred care, which is helping them out," he said.

"And they're getting the same testing that they would get if they had to go and wait in the waiting room at any of your local hospitals."

Lane Harrison/CBC
Lane Harrison/CBC

Gordon, who has worked in the diagnostic imaging department at a hospital, said conducting X-rays for nursing home patients sometimes requires an extra level of care while at the hospital.

"A patient from a nursing home, if they are unaccompanied, then somebody has to look after them, which means that somebody within our department would have to periodically check on this person because you just couldn't leave them in the halls alone."

He said the program is even more helpful in light of the pandemic, which has caused patients to be weary of hospitals.

"There is a need for this within our province for sure," Gordon said.