Hillmorton Hospital staff say they struggle to keep everyone safe in wards overcrowded with seriously unwell people.
“It’s not a controlled environment anymore,” a staff member said last week.
In December, a patient lit a fire, which sent four people to hospital with smoke inhalation and led to a 30 minute building evacuation. A month later the facility was evacuated again after another patient-lit fire.
Hillmorton has been running at or over capacity for over two years. In December, occupancy was at 102 per cent, meaning patients had to “sleepover” elsewhere 41 times. Occupancy was at 97 per cent in January, above the optimal level of 85 per cent.
The board meeting agenda for last week said: “Along with increased occupancy rates [at Hillmorton], the level of acuity is very high. A high number of methamphetamine related presentations are being experienced. This increase is new, concerning and proving to be challenging.”
“Such high occupancy is unsustainable and does not allow for increased demand over time,” the agenda said.
Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) general manager mental health services Toni Gutschlag said there were “some small fires recently which were extinguished promptly”.
Four people were taken to Christchurch Hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation after the December fire, she said.
Gutschlag could not give data on how many people presented with drug issues as it was not recorded separately.
A staff member, speaking anonymously for fear of repercussions, said patients were not getting the care they needed in overcrowded wards.
The source said they often saw nurses looking shell-shocked, breaking down in tears at work and reluctant to leave their office because they were scared.
Patients were also frightened, they said.
“It’s the law of the jungle there. It’s not a controlled environment anymore.”
It was not unusual to have half a dozen police staff on site to assist.
Some unwell patients walked out of the units and used drugs and alcohol before getting picked up by police and brought back in a state that was difficult to manage, the staff member said.
Police were getting frustrated with being called out repeatedly and bringing patients back to the wards, the source said.
Another staff member, speaking anonymously, confirmed safety issues at Hillmorton Hospital had worsened over the last year, with regular serious assaults occurring.
The source said staff had raised concerns repeatedly about safety but felt they had not been addressed by management.
“Morale is very low.”
In December, a patient who was not getting the attention they needed lit a “large fire”, they said.
Stuff reported last year that burnt-out mental health staff at Hillmorton went to work anxious and afraid for the safety of themselves and their patients, with assaults by patients escalating to an average of more than two a day.
New Zealand Nurses Organisation organiser John Miller said the union had received calls from several distressed staff in recent months and was working on putting together a list of concerns and potential solutions to present to the CDHB next month.
He said the service was working “to its absolute maximum”.
“When you regularly have over 90 patients in care in a 63 bed facility there’s got to be problems,” he said.
The units were short-staffed at the end of last year and many new graduates had filled these positions, he said.
Gutschlag said all staff received fire training and evacuation exercises happened every six months,
“Our staff work exceptionally hard, to provide the best care possible in some very challenging circumstances and we are continuously looking for ways to make the environment as safe as possible for consumers and staff.”
Source : stuff.co.nz