Northside beds closed, autistic teen 'distressed' in adult unit

The parents of a severely autistic teenager, who is being housed in Launceston General Hospital’s acute mental health unit, say the experience has been “excruciating” for the family and staff.

The 15-year-old boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has been at Northside Mental Health Clinic for nearly 12 weeks, which has resulted in beds being closed to other patients. He is due to be moved into accommodation at Latrobe next week.

Health and Community Services Union assistant state secretary Robbie Moore said the state government’s inability to find appropriate housing for the teenager for that length of time resulted in all remaining beds being closed for nearly 12 weeks.

A spokeswoman said the government was “working closely with the family, medical professionals and the National Disability Insurance Scheme to ensure suitable and safe long-term accommodation for the teenager in question”.

“Significant modifications are currently being made to an identified home to ensure it can cater for the complex needs of this teenager while also providing the necessary protections for staff and other residents,” she said.

“These modifications are expected to be completed within the next week.”

The teen’s parents said their son should not be in a ward designed for adult psychiatric patients, and that he had experienced an “incredible amount of distress” since being admitted on March 28.

“He has the developmental level intellectually of a three-year-old and is non-verbal, so explaining issues to him about why he is where he is ... is very difficult,” his mother said.

Mr Moore said the situation demonstrated a “systematic failure” on the part of the Health Department.

“Due to the minister’s mismanagement, the only facility in the North of the state that can deal with patients suffering chronic mental illness has been closed for almost three months,” he said.

“Chronically ill patients are either admitted to the general ward – which creates a clear risk to them, to other patients and to our members – or they are being shipped to either the North-West or the South.”

The boy’s mother thanked staff members at Northside who had chosen to work with their son and were considerate of his disability. “We also want to thank the Housing Department because when they got involved with modifying accommodation and getting it ready for him, they were great to deal with and utterly professional.”