Psychiatric assistant convicted of indecently assaulting inpatient at mental health unit in New Zealand

A psychiatric assistant has been fired and convicted of indecently assaulting an inpatient at a mental health unit in New Zealand.   

The assault was revealed as part of Deputy Health and Disability Commissioner (HDC) Dr Vanessa Caldwell's report released on Monday afternoon. The time and location of the assault are not given in the report.  

The report says a man, known as Mr A, in his twenties at the time of the events was admitted to a Te Whatu Ora facility to undergo a further assessment under the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992 after he was assessed with having a mental disorder.  

After being discharged, Mr A revealed what happened to him to his key worker. Mr A said he had been indecently assaulted by a psychiatric assistant, known as Mr B, while he was an inpatient.  

Mr A also revealed he received "multiple calls" from the psychiatric assistant asking if he wanted to meet up.   

The report says Mr A recorded one of the phone calls, which was later given to Police.   

"With the support of his key worker, Mr A reported the indecent assault and subsequent contact from Mr B to Police," the report says.   

Te Whatu Ora told HDC a full investigation into the allegation had commenced.   

"Te Whatu Ora said that at the time, it concluded that while the allegation of an indecent assault could not be substantiated, it had established that Mr B had accessed Mr A's patient details and contacted Mr A to meet outside of work," the report said.   

"Te Whatu Ora confirmed that it did not accept that Mr B's purpose for contacting Mr A was credible and, as a result, Mr B's employment was terminated with immediate effect."   

Following this, police charged the psychiatric assistant with indecent assault relating to Mr A. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months of intensive supervision.  

Dr Caldwell said the assistant had breached two Rights in the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers' Rights.  

She also found by the assistant indecently assaulting Mr A during his inpatient admission, Mr B sexually exploited Mr A and breached Right 2 of the Code. 

" inherent power balance exists between a consumer and a health care provider. This arises from the nature of the relationship and is more pronounced in contexts such as this. ...Mr A was a vulnerable consumer, and he should have been in a place of safety," Dr Caldwell said.   

"Given the seriousness of Mr B's breaches of the Code, I considered making a referral to the Director of Proceedings to consider further legal remedies. However, I have respected the expressed request from Mr A not to proceed with this action, and I acknowledge the distress these events have caused already." 

But Dr Caldwell slammed Te Whatu Ora saying there should've been further consideration around what care the man needed following his disclosure of the assault.   

She said despite Te Whatu Ora instigating an immediate internal investigation, "there was a 'business as usual' approach to Mr A's care, which failed to acknowledge that he had been subject to an indecent assault while he was an in-patient of the very service that was supposed to be supporting him".   

She also criticised Te Whatu Ora for not apologising to the man sooner given there were multiple opportunities to do so and the lack of any offer of specific support or assistance throughout the investigation process or after the sentencing. 

Te Whatu Ora has since formally apologised to the man for his experience while in its care.   

Dr Caldwell has recommended Te Whatu Ora develop a policy that outlines how support would be made available outside the service itself for any patient who is a victim of staff assault.