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Review of "The Lost Years" History of Kimberley

Review of "The Lost Years" (History of Kimberley Centre)

Anne Hunt's history of Kimberley Centre "The Lost Years" should be compulsory reading for everyone involved in the mental health field and particularly those who unquestioningly endorse the doctrine of putting people with serious mental health problems into the community regardless of their ability to cope or the inadequate provisions of resources.

The saga surrounding the book's publication illustrates the extreme tactics employed by the close-the-hospital faction. The book was supposed to have been published in conjunction with Mid-Central Health who commissioned it. However, on seeing that it told both sides of the story rather than merely endorsing their own agenda Mid-Central Health tried to suppress it. Only the author's steadfast belief that the full truth must be told enabled her to overcome the pressures applied to prevent it being published independently.

Hunt tells the Kimberley story warts and all. In its 50 years history it has had many problems as all mental health services inevitably will, but what emerges most memorably is the incredible devotion and skill of staff over the years and the innovative approaches which saw Kimberley lead the world in aspects of mental health care. The range of activities for Kimberley residents has been extraordinary including sports, music celebrations of every event on the calendar, gardening, camping, craft work, small-scale industries and participation in a huge range of local and N.Z.- wide events.

So why, as the history shows starting in the mid-70s, did politicians and bureaucrats stop much of this and deliberately change a facility like Kimberley into something less which they now condemn and insist on closing?

In view of the current state of mental health services in N.Z. one of the book's most telling references is the 1984 comment on "declining staff morale" at Kimberley at the same time "there had been an increase in hospital bureaucracy and autocracy....."!

Hunt quotes the Kimberley Parents and Friends Association's concerns over the attitude of mental health planners and cites the Association's strong preferences for sheltered village accommodation rather than the current emphasis on isolated houses scattered through the community.

Anne Hunt has performed a huge service to everyone involved in mental health by presenting a clear picture of where we are at and, equally significant, how we arrived at the present distressing situation. Near the end of the book she quotes one of Kimberley's outstanding servants, Peter Graham, who in 1980 wanted the intellectually handicapped to live as was suitable for their "individual capacities....not the whim of experts and administrators". Current politicians, planners and bureaucrats ignore that message at their peril - and at the peril of those whose lives they wield such enormous power over. Even as I finished reading "The Lost Years" I learned Ruth Dysons's working party have recommended the closure of Kimberley despite 170 (nearly half) the current patients being assessed as not suitable for community placement.

The Lost Years issues a clear challenge to us all to put aside extreme views and vested interests. A growing number of concerned New Zealanders will be watching to see whether that challenge is taken up or whether mental health services are left to continue muddling along their present politically correct, tragedy-strewn path.


Health Watchdog - January 2001 for further information, especially on the mental health scene go to healthwatchdog.cjb.net


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