A man on a mission to help spinal injury patients

18 Sep 2023

John Connolly has been a man on a mission to improve the hospital experience of patients in the PA Hospital’s Spinal Injuries Unit (SIU) ever since he was a patient of the unit himself in 2019.

While full of praise for the care, diligence and hard work of the unit’s staff, John recognised that the unit itself was an outdated building with some outdated technology, and upon returning home to the Sunshine Coast he set about rectifying that the best way he could.

During his stay he saw that the unit is a place that builds hope in its patients, each of whom have gone through a life-changing injury. He also identified that the TV’s in the Unit, were limited in the entertainment options they offered and knew it was an issue he could solve, which would help build hope and resilience in patients by benefitting their mental health during their stay.

The first step for the former Wallabies coach was raising funds for new TV’s to be installed and iPads to be made available to current patients.

John held a luncheon on the Sunshine Coast and was blown away by the generosity of the local community as he was able to raise over $80,000 for the PA’s charitable arm the PA Research Foundation.

“When I was in here, the TV's back then, many of them didn’t even work and when they did work, they offered very little variety,” he said.

“I had an iPad so I could get by, but not everyone had that option. When you're spending many, many hours in a bed and you have an iPad or access to a TV it makes the time easier and go so much faster, and internally, it helps you a great deal.”

While John raised funds to buy new TV’s and provide iPads which could be incorporated into patient care plans by hospital’s occupational therapists, he also set about advocating for improvements to the delivery of care across the board, including staffing levels.

“There’s a lot of stress on the system, it’s nobody’s fault really, it’s an old building and we’ve had a lot of population growth which has placed more pressure on the health system,” John said.

“The staff and the care they provide is world class, but they’re understaffed. I’ve spoken with the former Health Minister Yvette D’Ath several times and she was fantastic in understanding the situation and trying to get things moving. I’m sure the new minister will do a good job as well.

“The staffing levels have improved already and now that we have the TV’s and iPads rolling out, we have to continue to look at how we can improve the facility, so it is on par with the level of care delivered by the staff.”

The PA Research Foundation has been hard at work finding solutions around various infrastructure issues to get the TV’s installed, including voice-controlled options for quadriplegics patients. Each new TV is connected to high-speed Wi-Fi and has multiple streaming services installed.
Importantly for patient safety and communication, the TV’s do not interfere with the patient call system. The screens adding to high speed wi-fi the Foundation made possible in 2019 and an 85-inch TV screen for the common dining room.

“Whether it’s free Wi-Fi, TV’s and iPads or increasing staffing levels there’s an awareness now among everyone that we can do better and it’s just about working towards that,” John said.

“What we're providing here is hope, and this facility is so important to doing that for every single one of its patients.”

PA Research Foundation Chief Executive Officer Damian Topp said the organization was eternally grateful to John for his fundraising efforts.

“We can’t thank John enough for his passion in making this project a reality and for the positive impact his efforts will have on countless patients who will be cared for in the Spinal Unit,” he said.

“We would also like to thank and recognize Betta Electrical for providing us with a significant discount which has allowed us to spread the funds raised even further and help more patients.”

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