Sub-Acute Care for Frail Elderly (SAFE)

March 4, 2021

SAFE Unit Pilot Project Wraps Up March 31

Proof-of-concept established

With the expiry of provincial funding, the Sub-Acute Care for Frail Elderly (SAFE) pilot project is wrapping up on March 31, 2021.

The three-year pilot project, which studied the viability of transferring recovering hospital patients to a specialized, ‘step-down’ unit at the Perley Health, has demonstrated the value of the concept in reducing recovery time, particularly for frail elderly patients who otherwise would have to complete their recovery in the much more expensive acute care hospital setting.

In addition to an 18% reduction in the length of hospital stays, patients were enthused by their improved function and independence. SAFE patients were 38% more likely to be discharged home where they were also three times less likely to require home or community care. As compared with a control group who were cared for in hospital until they were ready for discharge, the patients cared for in the Perley Health’s SAFE Unit were also less likely to be readmitted to hospital.

The benefits held even though patients recuperating in the SAFE Unit had more complex disease profiles than those treated exclusively in hospital – including those being treated for coronary heart disease and cancer.

Perley Health Centre of Excellence in Frailty-Informed Care is overseeing the completion of two additional SAFE Unit research studies. Further evaluation by the participating hospitals and the Ontario Ministry of Health is anticipated.

The pilot project focused on patients awaiting discharge from The Ottawa Hospital, Queensway Carleton Hospital and Montfort Hospital and was undertaken in conjunction with The Ottawa Hospital, Bruyère Research Institute and ICES. Funding was provided by the Ontario Ministries of Health and Long-Term Care.

With the conclusion of the pilot project and in the absence of further COVID-19 outbreaks, the 20-bed unit will be returned to the inventory of community beds for new admissions.

Read the March 4, 2021 media release


Sub-Acute Care for Frail Elderly (SAFE) is a new and innovative level of care that promises to improve the health and well-being of frail elderly patients hospitalized due to surgery, illness or accident. Under SAFE, these patients transfer from an acute-care hospital to a special 20-bed unit at Perley Health, where they access the medical and rehabilitative supports needed to recover fully and return to their place of residence.

The program is designed to prevent deconditioning that can happen in hospital. Patients typically stay on the SAFE unit for 2-3 weeks.

SAFE is a partnership involving Perley Health, The Ottawa Hospital (TOH), and the Champlain Local Health Integration Network (LHIN). The program has expanded to support patients transferred from Queensway Carleton Hospital and Montfort Hospital. A Perley Health family physician oversees the care of each transferred patient, with the support of a team of TOH specialists. Other members of the care team include nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, dieticians, resident care liaisons, recreation programmers, recreation therapists, creative art instructors and personal support workers.

This collaboration between an acute-care hospital and a long-term care home is unprecedented. The SAFE model is both scalable and replicable, and could transform how hospitals treat the frail elderly.

SAFE supports Perley Health’s goal of leveraging its expertise to become a Centre of Excellence in frailty-informed care.