Tears and Fears of Oakden Families

The brother of an acute dementia patient at a South Australian nursing home to be closed by the government fears his sister has been overmedicated to control her behaviour while his repeated complaints about her condition took months for staff to address.

The Oakden home in Adelaide has been the focus of repeated claims of abuse including overdosing residents, indecent assault, failing to bathe or change soiled patients and the overuse of physical restraint since 2007, with the latest review released last week forcing its imminent closure.

The Premier, Jay Weatherill, has been holidaying and is yet to respond to the review, and a spokesman for Mental Health Minister Leesa Vlahos would not confirm if they had spoken. Paul Brown, whose 64-year-old sister has lived at Oakden for three years, said he and other family members often left the centre in tears over her treatment but had no other choice because of her acute needs.

“It’s a Third-World institution, the people there haven’t been trained properly,” Mr Brown said, claiming some staff had fewer than two weeks’ training. “There was blood on the curtains in her room – it took three to four months to rectify. Her teeth are missing, she’s not properly dressed, we go there and her hair’s not done … she’s been so passed out on the bed you can’t raise her, and you get the feeling she’s being overmedicated and they bomb her out.”

Mr Brown said his sister used to be “bright, vivacious and outgoing”, but since her dementia diagnosis she did not speak and became violent when frustrated. He does not know where she will be taken when the centre closes, and is concerned the SA government will leave the residents in temporary placements to avoid further scrutiny.

Mr Brown said the failure to properly care for residents at Oakden was symptomatic of a “broken” state mental health system, without an independent complaints mechanism, needing a comprehensive review. “This has been horrible but we need to look at a long-term solution for mental health,” he said.

Liberal opposition spokesman Stephen Wade said the Oakden crisis showed the government lacked the commitment to drive mental health care improvements. “The Weatherill government’s response to the Oakden report smacks of a government managing a crisis, rather than one planning for and responding to the needs of our most vulnerable elderly South Australians,” Mr Wade said.

Ms Vlahos’s spokesman said the government was addressing the report’s recommendations, including “taking action against staff who abused residents, closing the facility, relocating the residents and ensuring this does not occur again”.

Dignity Party MP Kelly Vincent questioned the adequacy of training and police checks on staff, after it was revealed a discharged former police had worked at the service, despite having been detained under the Mental Health Act for threatening self-harm. The man allegedly indecently assaulted a 99-year-old resident in 2011, but the charges were dismissed because of his mental incompetence. ‘This has been horrible but we need to look at a long-term solution for mental health’

Verity Edwards – The Weekend Australian