Mental health centre in Adelaide’s south permanently shut

The state government has permanently shut a mental health centre in Adelaide’s south after staff were initially told the closure would only be temporary, with the building now being used as a transitional care facility for people with disability.

Jan 23, 2023, updated Jan 23, 2023
The former Southern Intermediate Care Centre building at Noarlunga. Photo: Google Maps

The former Southern Intermediate Care Centre building at Noarlunga. Photo: Google Maps

South Australia’s chief psychiatrist Dr John Brayley last week formally revoked an authorisation that allowed the Southern Intermediate Care Centre (SICC) at Noarlunga to operate as a community mental health facility.

When it was operational, the 15-bed centre adjacent to Noarlunga Hospital provided “step-down” care to mental health patients when discharged from hospital, as well as those who required short-term, intensive treatment to avoid hospital admission.

The former Marshall Government last year announced that the centre would temporarily close while staff were redeployed to “essential areas” impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the time, the Southern Adelaide Local Health Network’s (SALHN) mental health services clinical director Dr Michael Nance wrote to staff saying the closure would only last for 12 months.

But Health Minister Chris Picton told InDaily the centre was “stripped” and “dismantled” with the intention for it to be closed permanently – a claim the Opposition has previously denied.

Public Service Association general secretary Natasha Brown, whose union represents South Australian community mental health workers, told InDaily today she was “extremely concerned” that by closing the transitional care unit, the government was “reducing the level of mental health services in our community”.

“The need for this important service is still there,” she said.

“An ICC (intermediate care centre) is designed for people who may need support, but are not yet sick enough to be admitted to hospital, as well as for those who are being discharged from an acute hospital stay and needing some additional care before they are well enough to return to the community.

“With the Noarlunga facility now closed, there needs to be an alternative for providing this type of service and maintaining a sufficient number of mental health beds in the south.”

Brown previously told InDaily that, anecdotally, there had been an increase in admissions to both the Flinders Medical Centre and Noarlunga Hospital emergency departments since the SICC was closed.

She said community mental health teams were also caring for additional clients who would have otherwise met the criteria to be admitted to the SICC.

Picton said the SICC building had undergone extensive plumbing renovations because of burst pipes, which he suspected was due to lack of use since the building closed.

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He said over the past 10 months he had been “pushing” for SALHN to use the building to provide care to patients, rather than having it sit empty.

“I am pleased that we are now cleaning out the cobwebs and using the building temporarily to provide transitional care for people waiting for NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) placements,” he said.

“This will help to free up additional much-needed beds to ease the bed block which causes ramping.

“While continuing to be close to health facilities, the new location at Noarlunga is more like the community living environment clients will eventually live in, when they are ready and the NDIS is able to provide for their care.”

Meanwhile, Picton said SALHN would conduct a review to determine what the building could be used for on a longer-term basis.

He said clinicians and the office of the Chief Psychiatrist would be consulted as part of the review, which he estimated would take several months.

“The Malinauskas Government is also delivering a massive 48-bed increase to Noarlunga Hospital – doubling our original commitment, including a new 24-bed mental health rehabilitation ward,” he said. 

“This is part of 120 extra mental health beds the Government is building across the system.”

InDaily reported in 2020 that Brayley had intervened in care given to patients at the SICC, as well as at two other mental health services in Adelaide’s south.  

At the time, he said his concerns related to “systems and processes”, including referral and handover of patients, and the “capacity and capability of community teams to accept referrals of acutely unwell consumers”.

He also raised concerns about the SICC operating on an “outdated care model” that did not address the acuity of the patients it admitted.

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