By: Meghan Lawrence

Taranaki Base Hospital, in New Plymouth. Photo / File

The mental health ward of Taranaki Base Hospital has been compared to a run-down prison, with several former patients complaining of substandard conditions.

Several people approached the Herald after an article yesterday detailed one patient’s criticisms of the mental health ward, alleging the entrance was stained with blood, a chair covered in faeces, and that people were double-bunking due to demand.

The Taranaki District Health Board denied most of the allegations, saying the ward was regularly cleaned – and that the patient had mistaken coffee stains for blood stains.

Taranaki DHB Clinical Director of Mental Health Dr Sharat Shetty said further comments the Herald had received would be “isolated incidents” but the leadership team were taking all feedback very seriously.

“Incidentally the team is currently reviewing bed capacity and the ward bed-management procedure in the inpatient ward.”

However, several other patients have backed the allegations, claiming the ward was a “dirty, filthy environment” and “disgusting”.

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said they understood these allegations were being investigated at a senior level within the DHB.

An ex-staff member that became a patient at the facility many years later said he was disgusted by the ward’s conditions.

“I hadn’t been in there for over 10 years, since I had worked there, and there hadn’t been a lick of paint on the walls in that time,” he said.

“They walked me through the door into the open area and instantly I was deflated even more.

“I was in this horrible depression and I just laughed and said to them ‘do you think this is going to be therapeutic for me’. It was just disgusting.”

The former patient said he has visited people in prison, and “it felt like that”.

“It is just so run down. You almost want to take hand sanitiser in there with you and a towel to sit on. It was horribly degrading because you are stuck in this dirty, filthy environment.

“Despite making staff aware of blood and urine in bathrooms, etc, it can take hours before anything is done.

“I can remember many times where this has happened, one time being when a very distressed patient had severely cut herself and left a large amount of blood on the picnic table outside.

“The staff, wanting to encourage the patient to clean it up herself, refused to clean it and it was this way until the next day a fellow patient had enough and washed it herself,” she said.

Another former female patient, who suffers from borderline personality disorder and EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified), said she had witnessed dirty dishes left in the eating area for long periods of time, dirty bathrooms and overflowing bins.

“I don’t fully criticise the place, the majority of staff do try their best and make the best out of the situation, but, the cleanliness lacks significantly,” she said.

Shetty said cleanliness was a priority but cleaning of areas sometimes had to wait while staff cared for their patients in a safe way.

“We also have a dedicated cleaner who is on the ward and will clean areas requiring attention as soon as practicable.

“Our dedicated Psychiatric Assistants work hard to assist with cleaning as well.”

However, their primary focus was on providing patient care in a safe environment, Shetty said.

“We also have a consumer advisor who is very visible on the ward and part of her role is to spend time with patients and listen to their experiences and provide feedback to staff and the management team.”

Both female patients said they had also witnessed double-bunking and patients having to sleep on mattresses in interview rooms.

“I have been on a mattress in interview rooms and sensory rooms on multiple occasions, and have seen others be in them too. It is also not true that patients have a choice whether they share a room not,” one said.

The other said, “I have seen with my own eyes the sensory modulation and family rooms being used as bedrooms when they are at maximum capacity.

“I have also seen the double bunking situation myself, and have been told I will be sharing a room, not asked as the TDHB claims happens.”

Both women said they were grateful for the care they received, however, changes needed to be made.

“I do believe that for the most part, they are doing the best they can with the funding and resources they have got, and I don’t expect them to have it perfect, however there is room for improvement,” one said.

“I hope that by raising awareness for these issues, change can happen in order to benefit the wellness of patients and staff at the Te Puna Waiora unit.”

Shetty said at times there were surges in acute demand for inpatient services which required temporary measures to accommodate patients.

The policy was not to use the interview rooms as bedrooms, Shetty said.

“However, on a rare occasion they have had to be used as temporary waiting or transfer rooms for a number of hours, usually at night when the ward is at capacity.

“People are then moved to a room as soon as practicable the next morning.”

Patients might have to share a room when it was busy and they did their best to consult with patients about this, Shetty said.

Consumer Advisor Sarah Gillington said she had fortnightly meetings with inpatients to discuss their feedback, both positive and negative.

“A number of changes to processes and routines have occurred because of this feedback,” Gillington said.

“I have personal experience with mental illness and experience of being an inpatient of an acute ward.

“This is the foundation that equips me to share with staff and management the impact of mental illness and addiction on people’s lives.

“Usually, as issues and concerns are raised, we use the feedback loop to ensure that these are properly addressed as issues arise.”

Source: NZ Herald

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