Mental health services rethink: ‘Stranded’ patients one of 16 projects

Eighteen long-stay patients at Wakari Hospital have been identified as candidates to move into the community amid a rethink of mental health and addiction services in the South.

The Southern District Health Board also approved $7 million this week for a series of projects to continue next year to improve mental health services for the region.

In an update on the work programme this week, mental health and addictions executive director Toni Gutschlag outlined 16 projects that arose from last year’s mental health services review.

Among those projects, Ms Gutschlag’s report to the board described patients "stranded" in hospital who could be better helped by an expanded range of services in the community.

She said 13 patients in ward 11 and 5 in ward 9B at Wakari had been identified at the preliminary stage.

One of the recommendations that came from the health services review last year was for the board to clearly signal its intent to eventually close Wakari, because services there could be provided elsewhere.

Ms Gutschlag said work started last year to identify appropriate patients in the wards and investigate what might be required for their successful transition into the community.

"Early in this process there are already some emerging themes both in terms of patient characteristics and the challenges [or] risks involved in best helping the individuals," her report said.

Ms Gutschlag told the board a nurse practitioner had been appointed as project manager and, more recently, two service providers had submitted proposals to support the patients’ transition after a request for proposals process concluded last week.

The work programme from last year’s review is in its early stages and Ms Gutschlag is relatively new to her role.

The proposal for a rapid expansion of Dunedin alcohol and drugs services is in development.

Negotiations to increase crisis support service in Dunedin continue.

High level discussions for a peer-led wellbeing centre have been held.

Mental health and addiction services "by Maori for Maori" have been investigated and a model is ready to bring to the iwi governance group to consider.

When board chairman Pete Hodgson asked her for her view on the work under way, Ms Gutschlag said she had seen "really good progress" in the work programme despite not being fully staffed yet. Hiring is under way for two more project managers.

"Two months in, every day makes me appreciate the enormity of what it is we’re trying to do here," she said.

"We’ve got this huge programme of change and lots of new things happening — I just would really like to acknowledge the staff that are currently working in the system.

Board member Tuari Potiki said it was good to see so many things under way for those suffering from mental health issues.

"This really important population of ours have been under served, or mis-served, for such a long time."



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