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Distress, anxiety prompt hospital transfers from SA medi-hotels

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Twenty people, including one child, who quarantined in South Australia’s medi-hotels last year were taken to hospital after their mental health deteriorated during their stay, with the state’s chief psychiatrist saying self-harm was a factor in some cases.

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Figures provided to InDaily by SA Health show between April 20 and December 2, approximately 19 medi-hotel guests were transferred by ambulance to the Royal Adelaide Hospital for mental health-related reasons.

Of those, at least three were admitted to hospital following assessment.

SA Health has revealed a medi-hotel guest under the age of 18 was also transferred by ambulance to the Women’s and Children’s Hospital following concerns about their deteriorating mental health.

It comes after South Australia’s chief psychiatrist Dr John Brayley told a parliamentary committee in November that his office had received reports of some medi-hotel guests being transferred to hospital after committing self-harm while in isolation.

“I am aware of people who have been transferred to hospital in those instances,” he said.

InDaily asked SA Health how many incidents of self-harm were recorded at medi-hotels since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but did not receive a response.

Brayley said some guests required “high levels” of assessment at the Royal Adelaide Hospital’s emergency department and the Women’s and Children’s Hospital’s child and adolescent mental health service.

He said some of the guests were transferred back to their medi-hotel to complete the remainder of their mandatory quarantine stay.

“More people, who might be travelling to visit unwell relatives or go to a funeral are already experiencing loss when they return,” he said.

“Boredom is also a factor, apart from the lack of fresh air and the closed environment.”

A SA Health spokesperson told InDaily anxiety and distress were the most common reasons guests were transferred to hospital on mental health grounds.

The spokesperson said one contributing factor was the lack of access to fresh air and balconies.

“Guests can report claustrophobia and anxiety in rooms without opening windows.” they said.

“This can be severe. It can be addressed by room moved when available, and additional mental health support.”

Other contributing factors included financial concerns, with guests worried about the costs of travel, their quarantine stay and future plans, as well as concerns about their reasons for travel, including the impact of visiting sick or dying relatives.

From panic attacks, violence and small things such as stress headaches and skin breakouts for others

The spokesperson said quarantine could also exacerbate pre-existing mental health problems.

“Most people are transferred (to hospital) for either additional assessment and/or more intensive support that cannot be provided to a person alone in a room,” they said.

“Referrals to hospital may be required for additional assessment from psychiatric staff.

“Most people are referred back (to medi-hotels) with follow-up from the medi-hotel mental health staff and GPs.”

A medi-hotel guest at Peppers on Waymouth told a parliamentary committee in November that the implications of being “put in a corner” in hotel quarantine had taken a toll on a number of guests.

“From panic attacks, violence and small things such as stress headaches and skin breakouts for others,” guest Alex Tweedie told the committee.

“Then we come to the further stress of the possible transmission within the hotel.”

Other guests have taken to Facebook to express concerns about their mental health while in quarantine.

“From the day we got here we were not allow (sic) to speak our minds, not allowed to cry, not allowed to voice how we feel because they threatened to take us by ambulance,” one guest wrote on the Peppers Waymouth Hotel Facebook page.

SA Health chief executive Chris McGowan told the committee the experience of hotel quarantine was “variable”.

“I know in the early days we had a lot of people telling us that they were pleasantly surprised, to the degree that it is 14 days in a room… is probably never going to be beer and skittles, but they were very appreciative of the support levels they received,” he said.

“But for other people, clearly it is challenging and anxiety-provoking.”

It comes after the State Government announced last week that it had chosen new CBD hotel Tom’s Court on King William Street as SA’s dedicated COVID-19 facility for all returning Australians who test positive to the virus.

Acting Health Minister Rob Lucas said “many” of the hotel rooms had balconies and opening windows.

SA Health said on arrival to a medi-hotel, all guests are asked about their mental health as part of a general health check-up with a registered nurse.

A spokesperson said guests are provided with information on staying “physically and emotionally well” in quarantine, with all guests checked daily by nursing staff.

“Nursing reviews, GP reviews and other specialist mental health services are available to people in quarantine,” they said.

“Due to increasing demand and changing needs, onsite specialist mental health staff were commissioned in August and are onsite seven days a week.”

As of Monday this week, there were 910 people in South Australia quarantining in five medi-hotels.

The SA COVID-19 Mental Health Support Line is available for any South Australian who feels impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and wishes to receive additional support.

It can be accessed by calling 1800 632 753 or through online chat and is available 8.00am to 8.00pm every day.

You can reach LifeLine 24 hours a day seven days a week by dialling 13 11 14. Beyond Blue and headspace are other national organisations offering comprehensive mental health support.

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