Greymouth unit open

Last updated 00:00 01/01/2009

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The opening of a specialist dementia unit in Greymouth yesterday brought to an end 135 years of psychiatric care in Hokitika.

Associate Health Minister Damien O'Connor yesterday opened the 22-bed, $3.8 million unit at Grey Base Hospital.

It means the closure of Hokitika's Seaview Hospital, once the town's largest employer. The hospital is down to 22 patients, from a peak in 1946 of between 500 and 600. The remaining patients will be placed in community housing. Those with specialist dementia needs will go into the new unit.

Seaview shut three of its villa units in the early 1990s, when many patients were sent to live in the community, The Seaview nursing school closed in 1992.

In 2002, the board sold Seaview to a Christchurch property developer but leased a portion to maintain the dementia service. The new owners have the site on the market.

At yesterday's opening, West Coast District Health Board chairman Professor Gregor Coster said that when he toured Seaview in 2003 he could only agree with an earlier board's decision to sell the old facilities and move on.

O'Connor said the move from 500 beds, at Seaview's peak, to 22 today, was a case of less is more. He was initially wary of "deinstitutionalisation" but had been proven wrong. "We're all better off, or we trust we are.

"With the odd exception, the process has served us well. People live far better lives in the community."

Former Seaview psychiatric and general nurse Peter Neame, now a forensic nurse near Brisbane, left Seaview in 1996 after winning a personal grievance case. He had been dismissed for trying to save the hospital but was later reinstated.

Neame said the hospital was valued by the community and was in contrast to the type of care depicted in the hit movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The loss of Seaview was sad for the community, and for a large, sparsely populated region, it was not sensible to have services concentrated in Greymouth.

Meanwhile, employment issues between current staff and the West Coast District Health Board over a compensation package for those moving to Greymouth remained unresolved, a PSA spokesman said.

Hokitika employees now face an 80km round trip from Hokitika to Greymouth to get to the unit. The PSA has referred the dispute to the Employment Relations Authority.


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