The parents of a severely autistic teenager, who is being housed in Launceston General Hospital’s acute mental health unit, say the experience has been “excruciating” for the family and staff.
The 15-year-old boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has been at Northside Mental Health Clinic for nearly 12 weeks, which has resulted in beds being closed to other patients. He is due to be moved into accommodation at Latrobe next week.
Health and Community Services Union assistant state secretary Robbie Moore said the state government’s inability to find appropriate housing for the teenager for that length of time resulted in all remaining beds being closed for nearly 12 weeks.
A spokeswoman said the government was “working closely with the family, medical professionals and the National Disability Insurance Scheme to ensure suitable and safe long-term accommodation for the teenager in question”.
“Significant modifications are currently being made to an identified home to ensure it can cater for the complex needs of this teenager while also providing the necessary protections for staff and other residents,” she said.
“These modifications are expected to be completed within the next week.”
The teen’s parents said their son should not be in a ward designed for adult psychiatric patients, and that he had experienced an “incredible amount of distress” since being admitted on March 28.
“He has the developmental level intellectually of a three-year-old and is non-verbal, so explaining issues to him about why he is where he is ... is very difficult,” his mother said.
Mr Moore said the situation demonstrated a “systematic failure” on the part of the Health Department.
“Due to the minister’s mismanagement, the only facility in the North of the state that can deal with patients suffering chronic mental illness has been closed for almost three months,” he said.
“Chronically ill patients are either admitted to the general ward – which creates a clear risk to them, to other patients and to our members – or they are being shipped to either the North-West or the South.”
The boy’s mother thanked staff members at Northside who had chosen to work with their son and were considerate of his disability. “We also want to thank the Housing Department because when they got involved with modifying accommodation and getting it ready for him, they were great to deal with and utterly professional.”
Mother 'distressed' by mental health services proposal to send autistic son to detention centre
The Tasmanian mother of an autistic teenager placed in an unsuitable mental health facility says it was suggested he live at a youth detention centre because there was nowhere else to place him.
Juliana Livingston's 15-year-old-son, who has a complex disability and had started self-harming, has been living in an acute mental health facility housed within the Launceston General Hospital (LGH) since March.
But Ms Livingston's son does not have a mental illness and because he is a youth, it has meant the other three beds in the facility cannot be used.
"All we have been told, and we have been told this day-in, day-out, is that there's nowhere else to place him," Ms Livingston said.
"But where he's been placed is most unsuitable and was causing distress."
Ms Livingston said she "found out a few weeks ago that the management of the mental health services were investigating sending our son to Ashley [youth detention centre] to get rid of him".
"That was extremely distressing for us, because we brought a child who needed help from the health system and they were thinking about putting him behind barb wire."
No adult patients allowed while youth on site
The situation has also worsened the state's mental health bed shortage.
The Health and Community Services Union's Robbie Moore said no other adults could be housed in the ward while a youth is there.
"The issue is these beds are critical, they are there for people with acute mental health issues and people that need services so they are able to rehabilitate themselves and get out of hospital," Mr Moore said.
"This situation is having an affect throughout the Tasmanian Health Service, it means that patients are being transferred to Hobart and Burnie when they should be admitted to the LGH [Launceston General Hospital].
"We know there is a crisis in the health system, and to have these four critical beds unavailable for over 12 weeks is totally unacceptable."
Over the weekend there were seven mental health patients unable to be admitted at the Royal Hobart Hospital (RHH) due to bed shortages.
One patient was transferred to Launceston, only to find there was not a bed available at the LGH either, and was sent back to Hobart.
Mr Moore said it was as a result of the situation Ms Livingston's son had found himself in.
The Government said it has been working closely with the Livingston family, medical professionals and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) to ensure there is suitable long term accommodation for the teenager.
"Significant modifications are currently being made to an identified home to ensure it can cater for the complex needs of this teenager, while also providing the necessary protections for staff and other residents," a spokeswoman said.
"These modifications are expected to be completed within the next week."