88yo Helen Joske 'frightened, claustrophic' while trapped in Wollongong Hospital lift

Breakdown: Merryn Joske with her mother Helen who was traumatised after being trapped in a lift at Wollongong Hospital on Saturday. Picture: Sylvia Liber
Breakdown: Merryn Joske with her mother Helen who was traumatised after being trapped in a lift at Wollongong Hospital on Saturday. Picture: Sylvia Liber

An 88-year-old woman who was trapped for an hour-and-a-half in an ageing lift at Wollongong Hospital on the weekend said it was "dreadful, frightening and claustrophobic".

Helen Joske, from Kiama south of Wollongong, had just visited her daughter Merryn in a ward on the eighth floor of the hospital's C block on Saturday, when she stepped into the lift and pressed the button for the 'ground floor'.

However when another person vacated the lift on the second floor the doors closed - and would not reopen.

Mrs Joske, and another lady, were trapped in the lift for the next 90 minutes - with no food or water - while staff called in lift technicians who worked hard to free them.

"I've had two hip replacements so it wasn't very comfortable sitting on the floor - when they finally opened the door I had to be helped up and put in a wheelchair," she said.

"The staff were wonderful, especially a wardsperson called Maeve, but it makes me scared to visit my daughter.

"This is the worst thing that's happened - but on other occasions I've had to wait for half an hour for a lift as there's always some out of order."

Her daughter Merryn has been in and out of hospital over the past two-and-a-half years, as she battles reccuring bacterial blood infections.

The 61-year-old, who is vision impaired, said taking the stairs was not an option for herself or her mother.

"We were already upset as a patient with influenza was put in my room, which has four beds, and so all visitors including my mum had to wear face masks," she said.

"Mum was having trouble breathing with the mask so left around midday, and then I was informed she was stuck in the lift. It was very upsetting for both of us.

"I know from my time here that the lifts break down all too often and others have been trapped too. This antiquated lift service is a continual source of trauma and needs to be fixed once and for all."

This antiquated lift service is a continual source of trauma and needs to be fixed once and for all.

Merryn Joske

In mid-May, another hospital visitor told the Mercury that she'd been trapped in a lift in C block for 40 minutes. On that day, just three of the six lifts in that part of the hospital were in working order.

While the hospital has 18 lifts in total, only those six can access the top levels in the older C block. Issues with those lifts have been reported for many years.

Last month Northern Illawarra Hospital Group general manager Nicole Sheppard apologised to the patients and visitors inconvenienced.

She said lift refurbishments were underway as part of the state government's $500 million Asset Refurbishment and Replacement Program.

"Wollongong Hospital undertakes regular refurbishments of lifts throughout the facility," she said.

"Two lifts have had refurbishments completed and two are currently underway. Further refurbishment works will be carried out in coming weeks."

Ms Sheppard reminded the public to enter the hospital via the main entrance on Loftus Street to "ensure appropriate access to services and wards".

However Merryn Joske said with access to her ward only available via the six ageing lifts, her mother and other visitors - as well as patients and staff - didn't have much alternative.

An Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD) spokeswoman added that a complaint had been received about Saturday's lift breakdown on Monday, and the incident was under investigation.

Meantime ISLHD medicine division co-director David Jeffery said patients with flu were managed in line with NSW Health policy with precautions including the wearing of masks by both staff and visitors and isolation in a single room "where possible".