By Melissa Keogh
The Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Association of South Australia (PQSA) is set for further growth following the rollout of the $22 billion National Disability Insurance Scheme, according to the organisation’s chief Peter Stewart.
PQSA is the state’s peak community body for people with spinal cord injuries, employing more than 500 people across six offices in metropolitan and regional SA.
According to Peter, former charge nurse at Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre’s spinal injuries rehabilitation unit, PQSA will continue to ride a wave of employment growth as the roll out of the NDIS in SA continues in 2018.
“Even prior to the NDIS, our workforce had increased by about 35%, so we’re currently sitting at about 540 employees,” he says.
“So across all of our services, we’ve increased our workforce, particularly with our in-home disability support (and) under the NDIS our workforce is going to continue to grow over the next couple of years.”
The NDIS is a universal insurance scheme for people with a disability aged under 65 years and is expected to double the disability sector’s workforce by 2019.
By the same year the NDIS is expected to support about 460,000 Australians living with a disability by giving them more control over how their support funding is spent.
Under the scheme, participants will receive an NDIS funding package tailored to their care and support needs, allowing them greater choice and control over which services they choose.
According to SA Health, the NDIS will benefit more than 32,000 people with a disability in SA once its fully implemented from July 1, 2018.
The NDIS is the biggest social reform that health professionals – including Peter – have seen since the introduction of Medicare in the 1970s.
Despite these advances to the health sector, PQSA’s objective remains the same – to support people with spinal cord injuries to live their potential.
PQSA runs a number of services including its newly introduced Occupational Therapist service.
In late 2017 it welcomed Push Thru, a peer support program providing people with spinal cord injuries in regional parts of the state to connect with likeminded others.
Peter says it’s crucial that health support systems reach the regions to ensure people with disabilities don’t “fall through the cracks”.
“The risk of them (regional clients) having poorer health outcomes is much greater so we’re trying to ensure all our services are provided more effectively in regional areas,” he says.
“We’ve identified that peer networks just aren’t facilitated as effectively as they could be, so we’re trying to build that support network so people feel much more confident and resourced in how they can deal with day-to-day problems.”
PQSA also runs the technology hub at Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre, allowing patients to access the internet and connect with loved ones using voice recognition software, larger keyboards and other specialist equipment.
The organisation’s commercial division is HomeCare+ which delivers a range of disability support services with profits returned to help fund services offered by PQSA at no charge to the consumer.
PQSA has about 1000 clients, many of whom have either a traumatic spinal cord injury (from a vehicle accident, fall, sporting injury or recreational activity such as diving) or a non-traumatic injury (caused by a medical conditions such as a tumour, inflammatory condition or degenerative change).
Peter has worked for many years with people who have spinal cord injuries and says it’s challenging but rewarding to watch clients carry on to live fulfilling lives, and in some cases even win Paralympic gold medals.
Studying postgraduate nursing at Flinders University, he developed a passion for spinal injury rehabilitation early in his career, training and working at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and becoming charge nurse at the Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre’s spinal injury unit.
He has also taught at Flinders University and developed a spinal injury rehabilitation course that spread across Australia and to South East Asia.
Peter says SA’s investment in health infrastructure is to be commended.
“I think what we’ve created is an amazing health hub for SA and I think it should be applauded,” he says, referring to SA’s world-class new Royal Adelaide Hospital.
“There’s also a lot happening in the research space and particularly around rehabilitation and the use of assistive technology in SA, which is fantastic.
“It (the NDIS rollout) is happening relatively slowly in SA, but it’s ramping up each and every day.”
For more information on the NDIS in SA click here.
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