Embattled Mental Health Minister Leesa Vlahos told media she was advised just last night of “a further incident of unnecessary force involving a staff member towards a resident”, with the employee “stood down and reported to SAPOL”.
Incredibly, it’s the second time in as many days that the Government has admitted to fresh claims of elder abuse at the disgraced facility – both instances allegedly occurring after the home’s much-publicised closure was announced last month.
That closure will now be fast-tracked, with the embattled minister declaring “in light of further incidents being brought to my attention, I have decided the previously-planned transfer of residents over the next few months is inadequate and I am ordering this process to be brought forward”, with the Makk and McLeay wards to close in as little as 20 days.
However, any move to “bring forward” the closure of the facility appears to be merely in line with a key recommendation of the bombshell report into the centre by Chief Psychiatrist Dr Aaron Groves: “Capital planning should commence immediately with an aim of decommissioning Oakden at the earliest possible time.”
Vlahos said it was “disgraceful” that staff were “not complying with the culture we expect at that facility”.
She reiterated what she called a “zero tolerance approach to elder abuse”, saying families of current residents were being contacted today to update them on the latest developments.
“I have no doubt the extra supervision of staff put in place following the Chief Psychiatrist’s report has played a significant role in identifying these recent incidents,” she said.
“However it has not prevented them from occurring.”
“We will not tolerate the abuse of older South Australians… what we are putting in is additional levels of scrutiny and support.”
Vlahos said her preference “would be to move residents immediately” but that she had “received clinical advice that suggests moving the patients twice would seriously harm their wellbeing”.
I’m not going to be bullied into resigning by the journalist’s pack or the Opposition
The minister, who has thus far weathered repeated calls for her to stand down over her handling of the portfolio, said she “continued to apologise” to patients’ families for “the fact that this has occurred”.
“I will not tolerate a cover-up culture on this site,” she said.
“[But] I’m not going to be bullied into resigning by the journalists’ pack or the Opposition.”
She said extra resources would now be allocated to the Northgate Aged Care facility “to expedite the completion of works” there, with residents to be relocated as soon as possible.
“We’ve always made it clear that it [closure] would be by mid this year,” she said.
She said Northgate was “a good facility” where patients would have “substantially better lives” than at Oakden.
“Northgate is the actual site that the more serious patients will be going to,” she said, adding that others would be placed in the private sector.
SA Health chief Vickie Kaminski said there would be further additional staff deployed in the meantime, adding that the latest allegation referred to the alleged use of “inappropriate force in restraining a patient”.
“A staff member and another patient witnessed it,” Kaminski said.
“There is considerable ongoing change at that facility… those [latest incidents] were reported immediately and action was taken immediately.”
She said SA Health was taking a “very serious approach to this” and today’s moves “will signal to everyone a change in direction”.
Kaminski said the closure of the facility had been delayed following the release of the Chief Psychiatrist’s Oakden Report because SA Health had been working with the Commonwealth “to answer all of their accreditation questions”.
But she said after the latest incident, the minister was no longer satisfied with that delay.
Vlahos had already told parliament yesterday of “an alleged incident witnessed by a family member of another patient”, alleged to have occurred last Tuesday and been reported to the unit’s new clinical head on the weekend.
It was then referred to police, and the staff member allegedly involved was suspended.
“This takes the current number of people suspended from the workplace to 10, pending further investigation,” Vlahos told parliament yesterday.
“In addition, one person has resigned and one person has been terminated.”
Prophetically, she said at the time that “these figures will likely continue to change in accordance with the status of investigations”.
Vlahos will shortly face yet another day of heat in Question Time.
Mental Health Minister has left Oakden press conference early using question time as an excuse, when it's half hour away! @7NewsAdelaide
— Andrea Nicolas (@AndreaLNicolas) May 17, 2017
Even before today’s latest revelation, the Opposition had renewed calls for her to step down over yesterday’s “disturbing” admission.
“The pervading stench of cover-up lingers,” Liberal spokesman Stephen Wade said.
“The families of patients at Oakden have the right to know if the accused was one of the staff who were under investigation but had not been suspended.
“The Minister seems oblivious to the collapse of confidence that she and her Government face when it comes to protecting the elderly.”
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