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Health exec contradicts Premier on Oakden

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A senior health bureaucrat has directly contradicted the Premier over allegedly dangerous understaffing at the condemned Oakden Older Person’s Mental Health Service.

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In 2015, Labor MP Tony Zappia sent a letter to then-parliamentary secretary, now-Minister for Mental Health Leesa Vlahos, informing her of a carer’s concerns that understaffing at Oakden could cause injury or death.

Vlahos asked SA Health to investigate staffing levels at the facility and responded to the letter with an assurance that it was better-staffed than other aged care services, and that staff there were “highly skilled”.

The damning Oakden Review, penned by Chief Psychiatrist Aaron Groves and released last month, said the facility was up to 44 staff short in January this year by national standards, and at least 10.5 full-time equivalent staff short at its then-occupancy level.

In his first formal press conference responding to the Oakden scandal, Premier Jay Weatherill told reporters Vlahos had been given “inaccurate” information from SA Health that staffing levels were adequate.

But Northern Adelaide Health Local Network chief executive Jackie Hanson told a parliamentary committee this morning that she signed off Vlahos’ letter, and that advice given by SA Health about staffing levels was “accurate”.

“The briefing was accurate,” she said.

“We were compliant with the nursing enterprise agreement [at the time of the letter].

“We have to provide reports regularly to the ANMF (nurses’ union) that we’re compliant.”

But she said the employee numbers she was referring to were “establishment” staffing levels – the number of staff the service was designed to have.

“There may be vacancies being recruited to from time to time,” she said.

“If there is a shortfall … that is backfilled.”

She added that in the year 2015 “we did increase staffing levels at Oakden and in mental health”.

Asked to address the claim in Groves’ review that the facility was understaffed, she said the Chief Psychiatrist was working from old staffing figures.

“The figures that the Chief Psychiatrist was provided [with] locally when he was undertaking the review was the nursing hours per patient day from 2010,” she said.

“There have been two increases in staffing since.”

Weatherill told the same fiery press conference at the start of this month that Vlahos had his full support because it was she who instituted the Groves review which uncovered the extent of problems there.

But pressed repeatedly by Labor MP Tung Ngo on whether it was thanks to Vlahos that abuse and mistreatment of patients Oakden came to light, Hanson said she advised Vlahos that an extensive review was necessary, and the minister agreed to the request.

She said she had told Vlahos that in her “experience” it was necessary to have a broad review of the whole facility.

“She [Vlahos] agreed and supported that,” Hanson told the committee.

Ngo said “only a small percentage of staff” at Oakden had been guilty of misconduct, and asked Hanson whether other employees at the facility had received awards or other accolades for the quality of their work.

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