Access denied for rehab at Shellharbour Private Hospital

Far from home: Oak Flats resident Linda Damiani - pictured with sister Susan Abbot - is devastated that despite having private health cover she cannot recuperate at a private hospital close to her home. Picture: Sylvia Liber
Far from home: Oak Flats resident Linda Damiani - pictured with sister Susan Abbot - is devastated that despite having private health cover she cannot recuperate at a private hospital close to her home. Picture: Sylvia Liber

After paying private health insurance for nearly two decades, Oak Flats woman Linda Damiani thought she’d be able to recuperate from spinal surgery in a private hospital of her choice.

However the 55-year-old said she’s been continually turned down for a bed in the rehabilitation ward at the nearby Shellharbour Private Hospital over the past five weeks.

Mrs Damiani said while the care she’s receiving at Lawrence Hargrave Private Hospital in Thirroul is top-notch, she feels ‘’isolated’’ from family and friends and wants to be close to home.

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Her sister, who has arthritis, struggles on public transport and on the steep walk up to the hospital to visit her. 

‘’I had two spinal surgeries a week apart at Wollongong Private Hospital, and then thought I would be able to undergo rehab at Shellharbour Private,’’ Mrs Damiani said.

‘’I’ve paid private health cover for 17 years, and thought the whole point was that it allowed you to make choices about where you wanted to go.

‘’I only need short-term rehabilitation and it would be so much nicer to be closer to home, where my family and friends could just pop in and see me, and give me a cuddle if I’m feeling down.

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‘’Being up here is so isolating – it’s really affecting me mentally.’’

Mrs Damiani said the facilities at Shellharbour Private –run by Healthe Care Australia – were similar to those at the Ramsay Health operated Thirroul hospital.

‘’My doctor has even called Shellharbour on my behalf but I’m still being denied access,’’ she said. ‘’I think it’s unfair and I think most people with private cover would want to know about this when they’re booking in for an operation.’’

A spokeswoman for Shellharbour Private Hospital said she could not comment on Mrs Damiani’s case, for privacy reasons.

She said that assessments on patients’ rehabilitation were based on the Guidelines for Recognition of Private Hospital-Based Rehabilitation Services.

‘’While patients may have health fund cover for rehabilitation care, the hospital’s compliance with strict guidelines require patients to be assessed and admitted under the care of a specialist credentialed to the hospital,’’ she said.  

The Healthe Care spokeswoman would not say why a specialist from the hospital was not available to assess Mrs Damiani.

Meantime the guidelines in question simply state that patients must be admitted under the direction of a ‘’consultant physician in rehabilitation medicine’’.

Healthe Care Australia bought three Illawarra hospitals –including Shellharbour and South Coast private and Wollongong Day Surgery – in April for $53 million.