Patients say that psych hospital staff covered up sexual assaults

The Mental Health Minister of Victoria, Australia, Mary Wooldridge, has asked her department to investigate Eastern Health’s (a health care provider in Melbourne, Australia)  handling of a series of sexual assault complaints that former psychiatric patients allege have been covered up.

Health Services Commissioner Beth Wilson also yesterday urged mental health patients with concerns about Eastern Health’s response to complaints of sexual assault to contact her office.

The Age has recently reported several cases involving female mental health patients who have reported being raped or sexually assaulted while under the care of Eastern Health and its Maroondah psychiatric unit.

The former patients have claimed they were pressured by Eastern Health staff to forget about the alleged incidents, including one where a male nurse was accused of sexually harassing a young woman under his care.

In some cases examined by The Age, police were not called and the parents of a teenage girl who was sexually interfered with while admitted to an Eastern Health facility were not notified.

A spokesman for Ms Wooldridge last night told The Age the Department of Health had been asked to examine the specific circumstances of the cases reported by The Age.

Eastern Health has denied it has a problem with managing sexual assault complaints from psychiatric patients.

But Ms Wilson said patients with mental illnesses were ”especially vulnerable and require special protection”.

As Health Services Commissioner, Ms Wilson is empowered by legislation to investigate patient complaints about health services and to provide policy advice.

Asked if an investigation into Eastern Health’s handling of sexual assault complaints from psychiatric patients was required, she said: ”I would be in a better position to answer this question if I had direct contact with patients who have made the reports.

”I understand the Office of the Chief Psychiatrist is following up some issues and practices at Eastern Health. If any patients or their carers want to contact my office I encourage them to do so.”

Victoria’s Public Advocate, Colleen Pearce, said she had concerns about the lack of safety for women in mixed-sex adult acute psychiatric wards.

Source: Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie, “Sex assault silence leads to Eastern Health probe,” The Age, November 22, 2011.

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