Call to move patients out of Morisset 

PSYCHIATRIC services at Morisset Hospital, including those for detainees in ‘‘medium-secure’’ facilities, should be moved to ‘‘more appropriate settings and accommodations’’.

Hunter New England Health should ‘‘transition’’ those services off the site over the next five years, and consider partnering with non-government organisations in the community to provide more appropriate ‘‘step down’’ facilities.

The recommendation is contained in an assessment of psychiatric services at Morisset Hospital by a team of independent mental health experts, initiated by Hunter New England Health’s chief executive, Michael Di Rienzo.

It is one of 16 recommendations made in the report and accepted by Hunter New England Health.

Read the Herald’s opinion here

It comes on the back of an investigation by the state’s chief psychiatrist into circumstances around the escape of forensic patient and killer Trent Jennings, who assaulted and robbed a man while on day release from Morisset Hospital in December.

The Morisset site comprises almost 100 buildings, including cottages, on 1244 hectares. The hospital is a 130-bed facility.

Mr Di Rienzo told the Newcastle Herald yesterday that, in an ideal world, services would be relocated and people would be better educated about the importance of providing quality rehabilitation programs in the community.

While the Kestrel Unit, a medium-secure facility which houses both forensic and civilian inpatients, would have to be transferred as it was, without any change to service delivery, there was scope for substantial change to the way other psychiatric services were provided.

“New models of care will probably allow us to move into different ways of providing rehabilitation and I think the future will be, you won’t just replicate the cottages in their 1950s type of presence into 2013, I think we’d be looking at totally different ways of providing that rehab, and a lot of it would be into the community and into different settings,” he said.

The site has previously been flagged as a “strategic priority” for the district, he said.

“When opportunities arise in terms of when capital funding is available or so on we have got something we can take forward,” Mr Di Rienzo said.

However, there was no plan to move the service, and any such plan would require the co-ordination of various government services with a presence at the site including Aged Care and Disability, and the Justice and Forensic Mental Health Network which governs the Kestrel Unit.

“For us personally if we could actually relocate to a more appropriate, more self-contained site it would be better for us because . . . there is a large cost in maintaining [the site] . . . and security in itself becomes an issue with a large site like that as well.

“Unfortunately there’s still a stigma attached to mental health patients . . . this whole issue is that if you’re a mental health patient and you’re at Morisset Hospital then you are potentially a risk out there to the community.

“I think what we’ve got to do is actually educate the community that a good rehab program is about re-engaging these patients back into the community,” he said.

Other recommendations include an urgent review of medical, nursing and allied health staffing levels, and more appropriate supervision of staff, particularly in relation to risk reduction interventions and managing patients with personality disorder.

Area director of Mental Health Services Dr Martin Cohen said many of those concerns have been addressed.

Dr Cohen said the recent recruitment of a “top notch” senior forensic psychiatrist to the service, Dr Elizabeth McVie, as well as a consultant psychiatrist undertaking advanced training in forensic psychiatry, was now providing the clinical leadership sorely needed at Morisset Hospital.

“Staff were stressed,” Dr Cohen said.

“Having somebody there all the time that you can refer to and get advice from and be really satisfied that they have a really high level of expertise, was important, and I think [Dr McVie] brings that sense of confidence.

CLOUDY FUTURE: A report says Morisset Hospital services should be ‘‘transitioned’’ off site.

“I think the sense that there’s somebody there that actually has enormous experience, she can draw on that experience, and plug that into the team, and develop that team over time,” Dr Cohen said.