Anna Leask

Anna Leask is a police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Inside city's secure mental health unit

Akshay Chand, among current patients found not guilty by reason of insanity of murdering Christie Marceau. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Akshay Chand, among current patients found not guilty by reason of insanity of murdering Christie Marceau. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Killer Latu Kepu was being treated at the Mason Clinic, a secure mental health facility in Pt Chevalier.

The clinic houses up to 104 patients, more than half held under court orders including those found not guilty of serious crime by reason of insanity or unfit to stand trial, remanded and sentenced prisoners and offenders admitted for the preparation of a court report on their mental status.

Among current patients is 20-year-old Akshay Anand Chand, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity of murdering Auckland teenager Christie Marceau.

Chand is being detained indefinitely at the clinic under a special patient order. Because of the severity of his schizophrenic illness he will likely remain in the facility for longer than he would have stayed in prison had he been convicted over Christie's death.

Last week clinical director Dr Jeremy Skipworth explained what life was like inside for patients.

"For those without community leave a typical day will comprise clinical review by their nurse at each shift, often a medical review with a member of the medical team, and for many patients there will be individual and or group-based psychological interventions during the day, and physical activity in the gymnasium or in the courtyard," Dr Skipworth said.

"For those requiring lower levels of security, gradual access to the community is facilitated, at first this being escorted by staff."

Mason Clinic patients have their own bedrooms but share communal living spaces and there are separate areas for women. They are allowed visits from family members which must be pre-arranged and approved by the unit manager.

How long people stay depends on their mental status, and their degree of improvement.

"The treatment plan is developed by the multi-disciplinary team of doctors, nurses, psychologists, occupational therapists, cultural workers, pharmacologists and social workers," Dr Skipworth said.

A patient such as Kepu, transferred under a compulsory treatment order, would stay only until he was "no longer mentally disordered".

"At that point they would return to prison to serve the remainder of their sentence, unless their sentence has ended, in which case they would be released," Dr Skipworth explained.

Special patients had their progress reviewed every six months by a panel, which reported directly to the Minister of Health - the only person who can approve their status being downgraded or reclassified.

"Leave from hospital is always carefully assessed so that all risks are appropriately managed. Leave may be for medical reasons, for example, to attend the general hospital, or for rehabilitative purposes.

"All leave is initially escorted by staff and the escorts can only be reduced with the authority of the Director of Mental Health at the Ministry of Health."

Latu Kepu is no longer at the Mason Clinic.

Read more: Killer linked to new assault

- NZ Herald

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