Carers of New Zealand's most mentally vulnerable patients have been caught falsifying figures amid accusations of neglect.
Documents obtained by the Sunday Star-Times reveal staff at a major mental health provider were ordered to overstate the number of hours spent with clients.
The company receives taxpayers' money to provide support for the mentally ill, but last year failed to clock-up enough "one-to-one" time with clients at one of its district health board contracts.
In an attempt to avoid returning public funds under a clawback provision, branch management instead organised a mid-winter Christmas function to boost time with clients before the end of the financial year.
Documents show during the three-hour event on June 27, nine staff clocked up a combined 244 hours of "one-on-one" time with 11 mental health clients.
The party was thwarted after a staff member complained, sparking an internal review which found client time had been "over-recorded" by more than 220 hours. "This is clearly a deviation from the acceptable practice," a report said.
The false hours were uncovered before it was reported to the DHB but the audit recommended a review of other public service contracts. "There is a risk that other ... services may have materially misstated similar information."
The events occurred at Richmond Services' Tauranga branch - where at least five mental health support workers have resigned in the past six months, alleging client neglect and workplace bullying.
Richmond is one of New Zealand's largest non-government mental health providers and receives millions of dollars in public funding every year. In Tauranga, it is contracted by the Bay of Plenty DHB to provide residential care to about a dozen clients considered too mentally ill to live fully independently.
The company is also contracted to provide outreach care to mentally ill people in the community.
Jan Bracewell resigned from Richmond earlier this month after clashing with management over client care. "I couldn't cope any more," she said.
"It became an ethical thing for me. The public don't know what is going on in the mental health system."
She and other former staff claim a rotating roster and a focus on clients' "goals" over basic needs left staff overstretched and clients neglected.
Appointments were missed and support workers were often turned away by clients unhappy about being rotated among staff, Bracewell said.
Richmond's central division manager Bronwyn Williams has refused to speak to the Sunday Star-Times, asking that any questions be submitted by email.
In a statement she said a data collection "issue" had resulted in an "over-statement" of hours, which was quickly rectified.
She denied staff had over-reported client time, or that any attempt was made to avoid breaching the DHB contract.
"The issue was dealt with at the time and we are confident that robust and appropriate actions were taken . . .
"I cannot go into details for reasons of confidentiality."
Richmond took its responsibility to care for clients "very seriously", Williams said. She also defended the rotating roster which she said was required "to meet the needs of the clients and to comply with contractual requirements and best practice standards".
Bay of Plenty DHB's planning and funding manager Helen Mason said she was aware of several allegations concerning Richmond, including over-reporting hours, which were now being urgently investigated.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Should fluoride in water be the responsibility of central government?