Probe into culture of disability services

EMMA BEER
Last updated 13:00 09/11/2012

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An independent investigation has been launched by the district health board to look at the service and culture within Disability Support Services.

Nelson Marlborough DHB's business development manager Keith Rusholme said as communication regarding suspected abuse and bullying was important for the service, it had taken staff concerns seriously and initiated a report.

He said there was a draft report from the investigation but the content and recommendations were still to be finalised.

He was unable to say when a final report would be available. Chief executive John Peters was driving the process.

A more robust policy for the DSS had been put in place after an investigation showed some staff had the perception they could not raise concerns to management without it having a negative impact on their employment, Mr Rusholme said.

This perception has been echoed by witnesses in a court trial last week where former DSS employee Linda Ericson was charged with six counts of common assault on a then-16-year-old patient.

After four days the trial ended with a hung jury and has been called-over until later this year.

Mr Rusholme said under the new policy "we're making it very clear that if there are concerns raised that, as a minimum, they need to be investigated further by discussing the issue with other staff".

"The other aspect of the policy is to make it very clear that it is a legislative requirement to report any suspected abuse. Staff have a legal obligation on top of a requirement by the organisation."

There was no tolerance for abuse.

If it was found during an investigation that there was a situation of abuse, the issue would be referred to police.

In 2011-12 there had been eight complaints received by the board's patients' relations co-ordinater, Mr Rusholme said. That included three inquiries logged from different agencies investigating the alleged assault now before the courts.

"The only complaint of abuse in DSS received by the DHB complaints service in the last three years is that one that is currently before the courts," Mr Rusholme said.

He was unable to say how many complaints had been received about management but said he would expect there to have been some.

"Within an organisation of this size you would expect to have complaints in various forms abut a number of issues, including complaints about management of what a manager has done. That's normal within an organisation."

Mr Rusholme said they operated from a system of fairness and if a staff member raised a concern it was taken seriously and worked through to its conclusion. He also said the DHB had a whistleblower policy so staff should feel safe about raising concerns.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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