Long-term patient who suffered every conceivable abuse and neglect
Alison was born in 1942 in Auckland. At three years old, she became extremely ill with a rare form of chickenpox that caused inflammation to her brain. The inflammation caused high temperatures, loss of consciousness and seizures. She nearly died. Alison was told this caused her brain damage.
In 1945, Alison was three years old and was sent to Lillian Smith’s Health Farm in Takapuna. Soon after that she was sent to various institutions including Kingseat Hospital in Auckland, Auckland Mental Hospital (Carrington), various boarding homes and rest homes, and later assisted living facilities. Alison has never had a mental illness.
Alison came from a very wealthy family, but she says that did not do them any good. She says her father had a shocking and uncontrollable temper. Alison was physically abused by both her father and her mother when she was little. She used to run to an older lady next door, where she felt safe. Her father told her she was going to a girls’ boarding school when he dropped her off at Kingseat at eight years old. He later told her that it was her fault she was in a psychiatric hospital because of “rotten behaviour”. Her mother told her that she was the hospital’s responsibility, not her parents’ responsibility. Alison was always in wards with adult patients at Kingseat, not other children.
Once she was institutionalised as a child, she was physically and mentally abused, over-medicated, injected with sedatives as punishment and received electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) several times. She was also put in seclusion for extended periods of time, placed in straight jackets, denied medical care and had her pets abused or killed in front of her. When she was 11 years old, Alison was sexually assaulted at knifepoint by an adult male patient at Kingseat.
When she was in seclusion she often couldn’t go to the bathroom and was forced to go on the floor. On one occasion after she had to urinate on the floor, the staff punished her by physically attacking her. Sometimes a whole group of people were locked in together, and everyone was forced to go on the floor until the door was opened by staff in the morning.
All this abuse occurred consistently throughout her care. Alison spent about 50 years at Carrington. She continued to be physically and sexually abused. Her pet birds Bonnie and Clyde were given away to a staff member at Carrington without her permission. She was placed with violent men with dementia, and had her property thrown away, smashed up or stolen.
Alison and her parents often voiced complaints to hospital management or to outside institutions, such as Police, the Chief Ombudsman and the Ministry of Health, but with limited results. Staff actively encouraged other patients to bully Alison and punished her for complaining. Often, she was left with life-threatening injuries and nothing was done. Alison became well known at Kingseat and Carrington for standing up for herself and for other patients.
At Carrington, Alison met a patient-advocate called Rod Davis, who has been trying to help her since 1988. Charge nurses were dismissive and insulting. They would not talk to him about their treatment of Alison. The doctors would, however, speak to Mr Davis. Mr Davis spoke to them about Alison’s dosages and prescriptions exceeding the manufacturers’ recommendations. He convinced them to reduce Alison’s medication, but they would not take her off it completely.
Mr Davis also told the doctors about the abuse carried out by nursing staff, but his impression was that they did not think it was their responsibility to do anything.
Alison wrote to everyone she could think of – including the Queen. The staff at Carrington would read all her mail. A doctor complained about the number of replies he was having to write in response to her complaints, but still nothing came of them.
Before Mr Davis left Carrington, he referred Alison’s case to the hospital district inspector who managed to get Alison off medication and compulsory treatment. Alison says that the District Inspector Paul Treadwell was a wonderful and kind man.
In 2005 Alison engaged lawyer Sonja Cooper of Cooper Legal, through legal aid, to file a civil claim for her against the Crown. The case took seven years to resolve, but she was then awarded $18,000 “for the abuse and neglect and being wrongfully held in psychiatric hospitals”. Alison was a victim of shocking, appalling and inhumane treatment as well as neglect in psychiatric institutions. She says the abuse was criminal.
Next: Maggie Wilkinson