Oak­den cri­sis thrust Leesa in spot­light


The Advertiser - - NEWS - ADAM LANGENBERG

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

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