Oakden crisis thrust Leesa in spotlight
after being crushed by a scissor lift at the new RAH site.
September 2015: Mr Snelling confirms the move from the old hospital would not occur in April 2016 as planned, pushing move date back to November.
February 2016: Worker Steve Wyatt dies at the NRAH site. MENTAL Health ministers have been largely anonymous in state politics — until this year, when the Chief Psychologist’s report revealed the extent of abuse and neglect at the Government-managed Oakden nursing home.
Dr Aaron Groves’ 146-page catalogue of horrors, on the culture and traumas at the facility, gave Leesa Vlahos a new, albeit unwanted, prominence.
The sheer scale of what occurred raised serious questions about her suitability to manage her mental health portfolio.
But the criticism of the 51year-old — who was promoted to Cabinet in January 2016 — didn’t stop there.
It intensified when she waited almost a week until the
April 2016: Consortium building new hospital misses completion deadline, prompting the Government to issue a default notice against it.
December 2016: Government wins a legal battle over defects in the new hospital.
May 2017: SA Health launches urgent inquiry into deaths of two stroke patients at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, where only two specialists qualified to give lifesaving treatment were simultaneously rostered on leave.
July 2017: Transforming Health boss Dorothy Keefe caught out criticising Government’s plans to parliamentary Easter break to read the review — instead instructing her staff to read it, and report back their recommendations.
Families demanded to know why it took her so long to visit the northern suburbs facility, months after they first came forward with reports of abuse. Instead, she placed huge responsibility on her staff.
Just weeks after Dr Groves’ report was publicly released, Ms Vlahos was forced to make two statements in consecutive days to Parliament, confirming police had been called to further incidents at the facility.
She also attracted derision when she told MPs she had only seen Dr Groves after he released the report during a chance meeting at Bunnings.
Her chief of staff Sam Runnel quit in July — sources told The Advertiser her office’s culture had become “toxic”. restore cardiac services at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
August 2017: Mr Snelling announces Transforming Health has been completed. September 2017: Hospital opening coincides with influx of patients placing huge stresses on the metropolitan health system. January: Mental Health Minister Leesa Vlahos commissions a review into the Oakden mental health facility after the family of a former patient, Bob Sprigg, complained that he had been overdosed and forcibly restrained. April: Chief Psychiatrist Aaron Groves hands down a report that finds dementia residents had suffered abuse and neglect at the facility stretching back years. Dr
The scandal and its fallout appeared to have a severely negative impact on Ms Vlahos.
When she updated Parliament on how the Government was moving Oakden residents to the Northgate facility, she did so while staring at the floor — to avoid television cameras.
But while plenty of focus was, rightfully, given to how Groves’ report also spoke of a toxic culture at the facility. Ms Vlahos comes under fire from families and the Opposition for waiting until the Easter break to read the report, and not visiting the facility quicker when concerns were raised. May: Parliament hears two further cases of abuse have occurred at the facility after the report was handed down. Ms Vlahos tells Parliament the she handled the scandal — the facility’s long-running abuse cannot be pinned on just her.
Dr Groves’ report told of how the atrocities at the facility long outstripped her time in Cabinet.
And at every stage, Premier Jay Weatherill has supported Ms Vlahos, steadfastly rejecting criticism of his colleagues. only contact she has had with Dr Groves since the report was handed down was a chance meeting at Bunnings. June: All residents at Oakden’s Makk and McLeay wards are successfully moved to Northgate. July: Labor MPs and Government Ministers block the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption from holding open maladministration hearings into what occurred at Oakden.
The Opposition remains convinced there is room to attack the Government on its handling of Oakden. But with the resignations of Ms Vlahos and Health Minister Jack Snelling — the previous two Mental Health ministers — they have had their chances of claiming a ministerial scalp extinguished in one day. IT can scarcely be Jay Weatherill’s preferred option to enter the final six months of the 2018 state election campaign trying to break in a rookie Health Minister.
The departing Jack Snelling may have had his share of detractors but he was a battlescarred veteran in a portfolio that has the potential to spin out of control at any moment.
In his valedictory press conference yesterday in front of the still shiny new Royal Adelaide Hospital, Snelling admitted as much.
“There is never, ever a dull moment in the health portfolio unfortunately,’’ he said.
“There is never, ever really any clear air because it is such a challenging portfolio and it is a portfolio that the media have a bit of an obsession with.’’
No doubt about that. Guilty as charged. But that’s because it would be a rare South Australian that didn’t have some interaction with the health system in any given year.
And when it comes to health care people tend to become especially emotional, especially in life-and-death cases.
And now Snelling is handing over the keys to a greenhorn. No matter how capable the next person is, no matter how diligent and bright, they are not going to be able to be right across a system as large as unwieldy as health in only six months.
In theory, it should provide an opportunity for a smart and nimble opposition to make the government’s life as difficult as possible. But when it comes to the state Liberal Party that’s an almighty big assumption to make.
In theory again, Liberal health spokesman Stephen Wade should know much more about the state’s health system than the new minister and should be able to make life as awkward as possible.
The loss of Mental Health Minister Leesa Vlahos conversely will be a relief to the Premier.
After the Oakden scandal, and all the terrible stories of abuse that came with it, Vlahos had become a deadweight to the government.
Now with numerous entities still to report back on Oakden, including ICAC Commissioner Bruce Lander, it will be a relief to Weatherill that Vlahos also chose yesterday to quit. He won’t have to expend any more political capital defending his minister.
Of course, the other minister to feel the Oakden heat was Jack Snelling.
NEW DIRECTION: Health Minister Jack Snelling with his wife Lucia and children Peter, Molly, Joseph, Thomas, Frank and Helena yesterday. Picture: TOM HUNTLEY