The aged care centre is being closed down after a chief psychiatrist’s review found dementia residents had suffered abuse and neglect and the mistreatment went back years.
Mental Health Minister Leesa Vlahos received a letter in 2014 from Federal MP Tony Zappia about a constituent who feared there was a “high risk of severe injury or death” at the facility because of understaffing.
Ms Vlahos, who was the parliamentary secretary at the time, replied to the letter saying staffing levels were more than adequate.
The centre also received an unannounced review by the Federal Government in response to a complaint in 2007 and revoked funding for the facility.
Ms Vlahos did not commission a review of the centre until earlier this year following a complaint by the family of patient, Bob Sprigg, who was overdosed with 10 times his prescribed medication amount on at least three occasions and had bruises on his limbs revealing signs of restraint.
Mr Weatherill said he had “full confidence” in Ms Vlahos and denied she ignored warnings about the facility’s standards in 2014.
“She received advice that staffing levels were beyond adequate at the agency and that advice has proven to be incorrect,” he said.
“It’s deeply disturbing that we could have a state government agency giving her advice, which has now ultimately proven to be wrong.
“What was never drawn to her attention at that time [in 2014], or at any other time, were the depth of the problems that were occurring at Oakden.
“Until of course 2016, when she arrived at the view that there needed to be a thorough inquiry and the chief psychiatrist undertook that thorough inquiry.”
Mr Weatherill also took the opportunity to apologise for what took place.
“I am deeply sorry to those families and to those residents,” he said.
Government’s handling ‘appalling’
Mr Spriggs’ widow, Barb Spriggs, said the Government’s handling of the situation was appalling from the start.
“The Premier and the Minister have just put on blinkers,” she said.
“They obviously have just put on blinkers and decided not to act on any of it.
“It is just appalling what people have been going through over 10 years.”
Ms Spriggs said fixing the issue had to be a priority.
“The Premier, the Mental Health Minister, need to pull their fingers out and get this fixed ASAP.”
Opposition Leader Steven Marshall said he did not think it was plausible Ms Vlahos had made a thorough investigation with her department.
“I mean, she’s picked up the phone there and said, ‘everything all right there? Yep? Great, no problems’,” he said.
“There were repeated warnings to this Government that go back a decade.
“This is a classic case of gross neglect and cover up of a horrendous situation to our most vulnerable and nobody wants to take responsibility.”
But Mr Weatherill praised Ms Vlahos for ensuring an investigation was undertaken by SA Health.
“The reality is, if the minister had not instituted this inquiry, we would not have been aware of the depth of the concerns at this institution,” he said.
“Rather than criticism, she should be acknowledged for the fact that she has shone a light on this facility and it’s revealed these very uncomfortable truths about the way in which this facility has been operating.
“What is disturbing, however, is that none of the systems of protection that have been put in place by the Government have revealed the depth of the concerns at this institution before this report has been put in place.”