11 Dec 2023
A former manager of the Oakden Older Persons Mental Health Facility has been disqualified from nursing for a decade.
A former manager of the Oakden Older Persons Mental Health Facility has been disqualified from nursing for a decade after a tribunal found she wilfully allowed an environment where vulnerable residents were neglected and abused.
Julie Harrison had held various management roles at Oakden, a South Australian specialist service for older residents with severe mental illness including those suffering from dementia, between December 2007 and July 2015.
The South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal) found Julie Harrison had undertaken ‘appalling conduct over a prolonged period’ after the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (the NMBA) referred six allegations of professional misconduct relating to her work at Oakden.
The allegations against Ms Harrison were that she:
In February 2018 the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption’s report Oakden A Shameful Chapter in South Australia’s History, found residents suffered neglect due to a shortage of staff to the point the facility was ‘medically unsafe, as well as reports of patients being assaulted.
An Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) investigation into Ms Harrison’s conduct for allowing these practices during her various managerial roles resulted in the NMBA referring her to the tribunal.
While the tribunal found Ms Harrison was ‘genuinely remorseful’ for her conduct over a prolonged period, it stated managers had a duty of care for the safety and wellbeing of patients.
‘Ms Harrison shared the responsibility for the care of a very vulnerable group of members of our community and there can be no doubt that she must have been aware of their appalling neglect and abuse at the hands of the health workers at Oakden over whom she had control. If not, then she ought to have known,’ the tribunal found.
‘There can be no excuse for health staff neglecting and abandoning the Oakden consumers or worse, abusing and assaulting them including the unauthorised and inappropriate use of mechanical restraints and subjection to inhumane treatment.
‘These were some of the most vulnerable members of our society afflicted by age, mental illness and mental incapacity and who deserved to be treated with respect, humility and empathy and not just for the convenience of the Oakden staff.’
The tribunal found that Ms Harrison had engaged in professional misconduct and ordered that she:
NMBA Chair, Adjunct Professor Veronica Casey AM, welcomed the tribunal’s finding.
‘This lengthy disqualification sends a powerful message of deterrence to the health system, nurses and all managers, that standards must be upheld to protect our most vulnerable citizens’, Adj Prof Casey said.
‘An outcome such as this underpins the need for employers to provide working environments that allow practitioners, including nurses, to practise to their full scope safely.’
Ahpra CEO, Martin Fletcher, said every health practitioner had a duty to ensure patients were provided the standards of care the community expects.
‘The patients at Oakden were among the most vulnerable in Australia, and they deserved the best care their nurses and other practitioners could provide,’ Mr Fletcher said.
‘This investigation was another step uncovering why that didn’t happen, and the tribunal outcome is crucial in further ensuring all practitioners and managers make the safety and wellbeing of their patients their paramount priority in the future.’
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