Mental health homes unfit for purpose
12 November 2015
Mental health services are regularly discharging chronically ill patients to government-regulated group homes which are grossly ill-equipped to care for them.
This is a key finding of the Community Visitors annual report tabled in Parliament today.
Public Advocate Colleen Pearce said, despite this, a protocol between two arms of the Department of Health and Human Services to formalise the relationship between mental health services and SRS, has yet to be signed two years after negotiations started.
Ninety-six per cent of the residents in those Supported Residential Services (SRS) which charge the cost of a pension (‘pension-level’), have a chronic mental illness or disability.
“This accommodation is under-resourced and insufficiently regulated to support them,” Ms Pearce said.
“Many are discharged to pension-level SRS from acute mental health care and with no follow-up support.”
Pension-level SRS tend to be the only affordable accommodation for the 2400 Victorians who are unable to return home from mental health hospitalisation or who have a disability.
Public Advocate Colleen Pearce said that SRS had become the primary accommodation for people with mental ill-health who may not be able to live with family or who don’t have family.
“The time has come for government to face the fact that SRS were never designed to care for people with serious mental illness,” Ms Pearce said.
SRS were initially developed for frail aged and most of the residents of the 61 SRS which charge above the pension (‘pension-plus’) still meet this need. However, not so the 84 pension-level services.
“The perception among mental health services is that SRS are formal, ‘step-down’ clinical services. However, many staff who work in SRS are untrained or unqualified and Community Visitors across the state have reported that SRS staff find it very difficult to get support from mental health services for their residents when they need it,” Ms Pearce said.
Among many incidents relating to residents at SRS, Community Visitors reported on two who tried to commit suicide before finally being taken to hospital. Also, a coronial inquiry into the death of an SRS resident by a mentally unwell roommate this year, demonstrates the consequences of ignoring these issues.
The government does not require SRS staff to be trained in mental health care and the low staff-to-resident ratio of 1:30 remains of serious concern to Community Visitors. Often, there may only be one person employed at the facility with a Certificate 3 in Personal Care.
“We support the Coroner’s recommendation into one of the deaths in an SRS this year that the government consider mandating mental health training for all SRS staff,” Ms Pearce said.
“And we welcome that the department has accepted this.”
The Public Advocate called for the SRS model to be urgently rethought as a step-down and care service for people with a mental illness.
Community Visitors also reported that the SRS sector has lost 135 beds over the year, compounding the lack of accommodation options for these very vulnerable Victorians.
Over 400 volunteer Community Visitors conducted 5367 unannounced visits to Victorian public mental health facilities, disability group homes and SRS in the last financial year.
Further statewide and regional findings as well as detailed recommendations are available in the Community Visitors Annual Report 2014-2015.
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