The Etheridge Shire is in the Gulf country of North Queensland. It has four small towns and covers a total area of 3,919,900 hectares. While the population is quite low it may surprise you to know that in the whole shire there is not one facility where a patient can have an overnight stay for medical reasons.
This was not the case in years gone by as the hospitals were staffed with domestics as well as the medical staff so patients could have extended stays for as long as it took to recover. Palliative care was even provided to those with terminal illnesses.
While aged care has been in the news lately for some of the wrong reasons, the reality is some of us will have no option but to go into full time aged care as we get older.
This is a horrendous experience for a lot of rural people as it means in many cases moving hundreds of kilometres to a foreign environment, away from your home and friends, where you have lived all your life. You also know that the next time you come home will probably be for your own funeral.
Every small rural town cannot have an aged care facility because they are economically unviable unless you have a certain number of beds occupied. Herein lies the problem, not enough existing population to fill the beds and not enough opportunity and services to attract more people to the area to increase the population.
This then must lead us to question if there are any different options or models that will allow facilities to be built and operated sustainably in these small country towns so our aged residents can remain in their home communities.
It would be a wonderful outcome and they could then receive the care they require to maintain the best quality of life possible, while still in the company of their family and lifelong friends. This could also add a few years onto the life of an individual because they are enjoying their living conditions instead of continually fretting for home.
It is time for our rural communities to be built on, and enhanced by, adding these vital services that are required to create attractive, welcoming and robust shires. When someone lives in and contributes to a community all of their working life, as well as paying taxes for the betterment of the country, surely they deserve the dignity of choosing how and where they spend and enjoy their final years.
- Greg Ryan, Georgetown