hospitalThe Employment Relations Authority has ruled that a psychiatric assistant who forced an autistic patient to the ground and held him in a head lock was justifiably dismissed.

Lopiseni Takataka was employed at a regional forensic psychiatric and rehabilitation service run by the Waikato District Health Board (WDHB) for just over two years. The Hamilton based service runs a specialist centre in Hamilton, caring for individuals who have a mental disorder which had led to criminal offending.

At the time of the incident on March 2, the patient – identified in the authority’s determination only as ‘Patient X’ – was in an outside courtyard and had been asked by another senior psychiatric assistant to come inside.

Mr Takataka had read the patient’s clinical notes prior to commencing his shift and knew the young autistic patient was “out of sorts”. When he overheard his colleague’s request, he approached Patient X, who came inside.

Mr Takataka then swore at the patient for being outside and not coming in when asked and shouldered the patient, who walked away.

Mr Takataka closely followed the patient while swearing at him saying “don’t you f****** pull this f****** shit on my shift” and “you need to learn”.

Mr Takataka was told by his senior colleague to leave the patient alone.

Patient X then stopped, turned towards Mr Takataka and told him to “f*** off”, which resulted in Mr Takataka physically forcing him to the ground and holding him in a head lock.

Mr Takataka was told by three co-workers to get off the patient and had to be pulled off him.

Following the incident, Patient X laid a complaint of assault.

Mr Takataka was suspended on March 6 while the WDHB conducted its investigation, and on April 8 he was summarily dismissed for serious misconduct.

Mr Takataka accepted he swore at Patient X, but said he had only done so because the patient had sworn at him and he was talking to him on the “same level”.

He denied being the aggressor and claimed he followed the patient to ensure he was ok.

He said he only “took down” Patient X when he became isolated and was attacked.

While there were a few variations in witness’ statements, the WDHB concluded the incident occurred largely in the way described by the witnesses and Patient X, and not in the way described by Mr Takataka. The authority concurred.

Employment Relations Authority member Anna Fitzgibbon said the dismissal of Mr Takataka by the Waikato District Health Board was justified.

What Mr Takataka did was unacceptable in terms of his employment conditions and the duty of care he was required to have towards the patient. On the facts presented the ERA had little choice but to dismiss the personal grievance for unjustified dismissal.

It is easy for us too sit in judgement of Mr Takataka as well and think what a terrible thing he has done. Spare a thought though for our workers in this country who work in the mental health sector. There work is demanding in the extreme, not only do they have to maintain a professional caring attitude for patients who at times can be frustrating and provocative, but they have to deal with stretched front-line resources and a growing bureaucracy. Mr Takataka snapped and ‘lost it’. We don’t know what other stresses he may have had going on in his life at the time that lowered his tolerance threshold. Whatever it was that caused his outburst it cost him his job.

In a negative episode like this lets not forget the amazing people that work under pressure every day in the mental health sector in NZ and encourage them where we can. They are not on a get rich quick scheme in this line of work and it takes a special person to love and care for those that in some cases test their patience to the edge of breaking.