South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has apologised to the residents of a state run nursing home and their families, after damning revelations on the quality of care at the facility.
Mr Weatherill returned from holidays on Monday and reiterated an apology made by Mental Health Minister Leesa Vlahos over the poor treatment and potential abuse of elderly dementia patients at the Oakden facility.
“It is deeply distressing,” he told reporters at the Adelaide Airport before flying to the APY lands in the state’s north to take charge of a country cabinet meeting.
“I’m deeply sorry to those families and those residents that they experienced that abuse, that they experienced that neglect.”
The response was “not really good enough” to the widow of former patient Bob Spriggs, whose family alleges he was overdosed and also suffered severe bruising while in the facility early last year.
Barb Spriggs, whose husband has since died, said it took 10 months for complaints about the home from her family to gain traction with authorities and she is appalled to have since learnt of issues dating back even longer.
“It’s just appalling to think that it’s been covered over for over 10 years and nobody has picked up on it,” she told ABC radio on Monday.
The premier said steps are being taken to remedy the situation and that Ms Vlahos, who has resisted calls from the opposition to quit, has his full support.
He said she should be acknowledged for initiating an inquiry that has revealed “the depth of the concerns at this institution”.
But he said it is “disturbing” that mechanisms in place to safeguard the wellbeing of residents at facilities like Oakden did not fully reveal the issues there before Ms Vlahos decided in December that an inquiry was needed.
The inquiry, conducted by SA’s chief psychiatrist, uncovered the rough handling of patients, an excessive use of restraints, and a concerning level of injuries.
Releasing it in April, Ms Vlahos said a culture of cover-up existed at Oakden, which was now set for closure.
The opposition, medical groups and some families have accused the government of ignoring previous warning about care at the home.
Mr Weatherill said Ms Vlahos responded properly to a complaint about Oakden in 2014 but was given inaccurate advice at the time from SA Health.
Opposition Leader Steven Marshall says nobody involved in the situation wants to take responsibility and the premier should have sacked Ms Vlahos to demonstrate his standards or have set a better culture for the public service.
“The fish rots from the head,” he told ABC radio on Monday.
“This government is incompetent, ministers don’t take responsibility and consequently there are massive areas of neglect and cover up.”