MORISSET Hospital is investigating what happened in the lead-up to a patient being found unconscious in her room, after which she was diagnosed and treated for blood clots in her lungs.
It comes as two families contacted the Newcastle Herald separately to raise concerns about what they say is the psychiatric unit’s over-reliance on heavy sedatives and medications they believe only “put a lid on patient’s feelings”.
Nicholas and Michelle Mills, of Cameron Park, are worried about their daughter Katey’s treatment at the facility. They said she was found unconscious in her room in July, after which she was diagnosed and treated for blood clots in her lungs.
The Mills family said their daughter is a “major self-harmer”.
“Suddenly, she needed oxygen one night. If you have a girl who doesn’t normally need oxygen and suddenly does, that should tell you there is something wrong,” Mrs Mills said. “They didn’t call an ambulance – they just put the oxygen on and hours later they found her unconscious.”
Katey Mills has borderline personality disorder, severe attention deficit disorder and intellectual disability. She has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.
Hunter New England Health’s executive director of Mental Health Services Dr Marcia Fogarty said staff had taken Ms Mills to hospital, where she was treated for pulmonary embolus, a condition which can occur for many reasons, including after severe injuries or burns.
She said they took Ms Mills to hospital a second time on August 3 when she could not be roused as a precaution, “but she was fine,” and the hospital had since begun an investigation into the incidents to ensure staff responded appropriately.
Mrs Mills said within a week of being admitted to the hospital, her daughter was “that drugged out she couldn’t even speak. She was slurring her words, falling over”. She said “they drug all their patients up to the hilt, Katey as well”.
It was a concern echoed by another Lake Macquarie mother, Elisabeth*, whose adult son has schizophrenia and has been in and out of Morisset Hospital for more than two years.
Her son has complex needs, but she says her concerns regarding his medications – which have included the powerful anti-psychotic Clozapine, as well as Valium – had fallen on deaf ears.
“They are all basically addicted to Valium out there,” she said. “When I went out to see him, he was so drugged up he could hardly talk. I asked the staff, ‘Why is he like this?’ They don’t answer you.
“They don’t seem to address his problems holistically, they only treat with medication, and he just gets worse and worse.”
Dr Fogarty denied that patients at the hospital were over-medicated. She said it was “extraordinarily difficult” for some families to come terms with their child’s psychiatric illness.
“Patients at Morisset are the most ill of the ill. These are people who everything has been trialled on and they are still unwell,” Dr Fogarty said.
Elisabeth said she had raised concerns with staff that she did not want her son to be able to take leave from the hospital while on Clozipane, as if he absconded – which he regularly did – he would not take the medication and he would quickly become unwell again.
He had been put on the medication twice before, with a previous doctor choosing to take him off it for that reason, she said.
But he was put on the drug for a third time.
“They put him on it, he absconded from the hospital when he was on leave and didn’t take it, and everything I told them would happen, happened,” she said.
“But they don’t listen to you. They think they know everything. How do you try a person on a medication three times and still think it might work? I feel like he’s not safe in Morisset, or out of Morisset.”
Elisabeth said some of the patients she had seen in the Kestrel unit, where her son had been a patient, had been physically affected by the medications.
They had rounded shoulders, some dribbled, and their actions were jerky.
Dr Fogarty said some of the older patients at Morisset had been on medication for up to 50 years.
She said some of the older drugs had more side effects, such as “tardive dyskinesia” – which could cause stiff, jerky movements of the face and body, and was perhaps what Elisabeth had witnessed at the facility.
“Generally what happens when people come to Morisset is we do an in-depth review of what they are taking, what has been tried in the past, what has worked and what hasn’t,” she said.
“For the vast majority, we have reduced their medications from high doses and multiple medications and rationalised their regimen to get rid of anything that’s not working or not needed to actually help the person.”
Dr Fogarty said psychiatric illnesses were “devastating”, and it could be very difficult for families to understand how their child had become an adult “ravaged” by these horrible problems.
“Families want to believe that if we just did this, or that, their son or daughter would be better. And when we can do that, we do. In just under a third of our patients, we can do that.”
The Mills family also questioned the facility’s use of the pain medication, Endone, as a previous emergency doctor thought it had caused an adverse reaction in their daughter.
They accused Morisset staff of grabbing and dragging Katey by the bandage on her burn during a “code black,” which is called when a patient is being aggressive.
Dr Fogarty said staff were trying to stop Ms Mills from pulling the bandages off and “wrecking her skin grafts.”
Endone, a long-acting pain relief, was used only as needed, she said.
“Katey has had Endone for years, and continues to have it without problems.
“At various points in time she has needed it.
“She burns herself, and when she does that, we need to do skin grafts to repair the burns, which is quite painful.
“We’re limited in what pain relief we can use.”
Dr Fogarty said Clozapine was the most powerful anti-psychotic in the world today.
“For some people, they only get better on Clozapine,” she said.
“It does have a lot of side effects, it’s a complicated drug to use, and you have to have regular blood tests. We don’t use it lightly at all.
“It is very closely controlled.”
A Riverina woman has echoed concerns of over-medication in mental health facilities during one of the public forums into seclusion and restraint practices in NSW.
Eveanne Morris told the Wagga Wagga inquiry that her request to reduce medication was refused, and called for a major review of the “forced drugging” of mental health patients.
For crisis help contact: Lifeline on 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au, Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 or kidshelpline.com.au and Headspace 1800 650 890 or headspace.org.au.