Disability watchdog hits out

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Disability watchdog hits out!

15.10.2009
PAUL AUSTIN

A disabled and mentally ill woman has been locked up against her will in inappropriate accommodation for 21 years under state care, and nine other people with ''dual disabilities'' have suffered the same fate for at least the past eight years.

Their cases have been condemned as a breach of the Victorian Government's human rights charter in a report to Parliament by the state's disability watchdog.

The Office of the Public Advocate's report, based on the findings of more than 5000 visits to psychiatric facilities and other state-monitored care homes last year, paints a picture of residents living in fear in sub-standard accommodation, overseen by overworked and sometimes poorly trained staff.

It calls on the Government to dramatically boost funding for better quality accommodation and care for thousands of weak and disabled Victorians.

Public Advocate Colleen Pearce told The Age last night: ''We are failing our most vulnerable citizens when the Government does not provide adequate housing and social support.''

In the report, Ms Pearce says the policy failures are impeding the recovery of mentally ill people, with some doomed to ''literally living out their lives in institutions''.

''The Government needs to urgently address this very serious issue as, without appropriate accommodation, recovery from mental illness is at best delayed and at worst impossible,'' she writes.

The report highlights the plight of 47 ''long-stay'' mental health patients who have been kept in ''secure extended care units'' for unreasonable periods.

It says one such unit has 11 patients identified as ready for discharge but ''who have not been able to relocate due to a lack of community-based housing options and support''.

The community visitors who compiled the report express particular concern for patients in the brain disorders unit at Mary Guthrie House in Kew, who are forced into protracted stays because of the lack of community-based specialist accommodation. One patient has been there for 17 years.

The community visitors were told of assaults and property damage at state-monitored facilities. Many residents refuse to complain because ''they are in fear of reprisals''.

The State Opposition last night said the report highlighted ''10 years of inaction and neglect'' under Labor.

But Community Services Minister Lisa Neville, herself a former community visitor, said the report showed the benefits of the Government's $40 million investment in supported accommodation, which had already helped 2000 residents.

''We have taken the unprecedented step of providing assistance to the privately run facilities to improve the quality of the services and support the residents' needs,'' she said. Ms Neville said there were 99 ''long-stay'' patients the year before last, 47 last year, and now 42.

The report praised the fact that new homes were planned for intellectually disabled people living in some ''problematic'' facilities.