Govt invests $100m to replace Waikato mental health facility criticised for 2015 patient death

Source: 1News

The Government has provided $100 million in funding for a new acute mental health facility in Waikato.

The facility, which will replace the ageing Rongomau Bennett Centre, will provide better care and support for people with mental health and addiction issues, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister David Clark said in a statement. 

"This Government has made taking mental health seriously a priority since day one," Ms Ardern said.

"It's important New Zealanders can access the mental health and addiction services they need at an early stage. That's why we're building new frontline services as part of our record investment in mental health and addiction.

"Having the right facilities that support people's treatment and recovery is also a key part of our plan."

The Prime Minister said the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre is "no longer fit for purpose".

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"It's outdated and does not provide the right environment to support a focus on recovery and mental wellbeing for patients, despite the hard work by dedicated staff," she said. "A new purpose-built facility will provide a modern environment with patient and whānau-centred spaces."

It comes after Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre patient Nicky Stevens committed suicide while under the facility's care in March 2015.

The 21-year-old went outside unsupervised for a cigarette when his body was discovered in the Waikato River. It took staff one hour to realise Mr Stevens was missing from the medium-security wing.

In a 2018 report, Coroner Wallace Bain criticised the centre , saying their standard of care was well below what Mr Stevens and his family should have expected, and that his death could have been avoided.

Mr Clark added that it is important not only to have facilities which are fit for purpose, but also meet the growing demand for services. 

"Over the last nine years, there's been a 72 per cent increase in people seen by Waikato DHB's mental health and addiction services. Each month, there are nearly 100 admissions to the Henry Rongomau Bennet Centre, which has 53 beds," Mr Clark said.

"This new facility is expected to have capacity for an extra 10-20 more beds. That will make a real difference.

"The design will continue to be informed by people with lived experience of mental health and addiction issues, their whānau, iwi and community providers, as well as staff and other health and social services."

Groundswork for the new facility is expected to begin in 2022, with the centre due to open its doors in 2023.