The potential for a new approach based on genuine understanding ­– Part 2

As the Steering Committee overseeing the implementation of all the recommendations from the Barrett Centre Commission of Inquiry (COI) has begun its work, it seems opportune to outline what’s needed as far as #4 (“consider a new building in south-east Queensland offering a range of mental health services for young people, including bed-based services”) of the 6 recommendations is concerned.

The Barrett Centre’s effectiveness was, in many ways, one of the state’s best-kept secrets for three decades. Few knew about it even when they would have benefitted from its services and, even now that the tragedy of its closure has prompted wider acknowledgement of its previous existence, the flawed perception of it as an outdated model of care perpetuates, denying the truth of the supportive communal setting fostered by experts with unique knowledge and commitment. The specially trained and experienced clinicians, therapists, nursing staff, on-site educators and other adolescents led so many young people whose lives were a constant agony to develop a fuller understanding of their condition and issues, their particular influences and the ways to confront or manage them through the years of complex changes and life’s multiple impacts that the facility’s track record would be difficult to match. And yet the understandable need for privacy in relation to patient information throughout the Inquiry has meant that the judgements of those who had no direct experience of the Barrett Centre seem to predominate publicly.

The centre at Wacol was not perfect. Even its most ardent supporters know that all too well. It was isolated from other aspects of the healthcare system, the buildings were ageing and not purpose built and some young people’s stays were extended beyond the optimal timeframe because no other options existed to deal with their health/accommodation needs. Some of those issues were to have been remedied by a relocation to a site at Redlands. But those well-advanced plans were terminated under the Newman government.

So now, Queensland has a unique opportunity. If planned well – with input from those professionals, carers and young people with personal experience – the state could have a comprehensive treatment system that will be better than has been available in the past. Better than is available not just in Australia, but globally. There are centres for young people in Finland, planned in Canada and elsewhere but apart from the fact that these can target a different age range or level of clinical need, if the Queensland facility could become a hub for expanded learning for clinicians, it would be truly groundbreaking.

RESEARCH into the severe and complex adolescent cohort – and effective treatment methods for this group – is lacking worldwide and this must be addressed. If a new centre were set up to facilitate this and, through the utilisation of the statewide clinical network, to TRAIN and assist regional practitioners, thereby alleviating the need for an inpatient stay for some young people and supporting others while they await admission/following discharge, then this would be a genuine Centre of Excellence. This is an obvious step for a state that aspires to be known for innovation. But more importantly, it is an opportunity where the outcomes are literally lifesaving.

This is the beginning of something.
It could be something good.
But it might be something great.

Of course, there shouldn’t be an aim to achieve everything initially – the centre must focus on the patients with a pressing need to be admitted first and good planning will ensure that. However, this new service should look beyond moving from just ‘isolated‘ to ‘linked‘ … because it be so much more. If the planning that’s happening now bears in mind the capacity for a new service to deploy research projects, training programs and statewide consultation when appropriate, then those things will be a natural extension – not new ventures that become too difficult to initiate.

Helping those who have been so long overlooked must be at the core of every function. Every plan. Every decision. But helping multiple future generations who can’t afford to be overlooked should be embedded in those decisionsIt’s only through the foresight for what can be, that the new centre’s full potential be reached. And in doing so, more young people and their families will be reached.

The next post – PART 3  – will highlight two of the essential components of a new centre.


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