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Michelle McCulla addresses the hearing in Sydney. Photo: AAP

Drugged and restrained: Royal Commission Sydney hearing

Drugged without family consent and strapped to a chair for hours on end, Terrance Reeves spent a hellish 60 days in Garden View aged care facility, the Royal Commission has been told.

The commission heard at times harrowing testimony from Reeves’ wife and two daughters over the first and second days of the Sydney hearing.

Reeves left his respite barely able to walk and had lost a considerable amount of weight, but instead of looking inwards, nurses at the facility asked the daughters what had happened to their father.

“I said ‘you tell us’,” Michelle McCulla said, only to be told by nurses that “this is what happens when they [old people] come into care.”

Lillian Reeves and daughters McCulla and Natalie Smith recounted how an otherwise fit Reeves entered the Garden View facility on a short respite with dementia, and at that point was still able to shower himself and get around with wife Lillian’s help.

When asked to describe her husband’s mobility as he entered Garden View on May 1 2018, Lillian replied: “He was very good. He walked very well. He wasn’t stooped. He didn’t shuffle.”

The court heard how Lillian had on one previous occasion given Reeves half a tablet of antipsychotic Risperidone when he became agitated, but had not done so again because “I didn’t think it worked too well for him…he was just almost unconscious. So, I never did that again,” she said.

Lillian and her daughters were also approached by staff about signing a restraint form for Reeves, for short periods, as “they just felt that during changeover shift there wasn’t a lot of people that would be watching him, and that it would be for his own safety”.

However, in daughter Michelle McCulla’s testimony on Tuesday, the court heard that on nearly 30 occasions family members turned up to find Reeves restrained, sometimes in a secure dementia wing with many other patients strapped to chairs in a small room.

The first time she found her father strapped to a chair McCulla was “shocked” and on nearly every other visit to the facility, McCulla or other family members found Reeeves tied down, and in one instance found him “drooling” and “shivering”, barefoot and wearing only a singlet wet with saliva.

Reeves was also wet from incontinence that day, and McCulla recounts hearing his screams as he was changed by six nurses all pulling at separate limbs trying to undress him.

“Stop it, stop it, stop it,” McCulla remembered hearing.

“Dad grabbed my arm and said, ‘how would you like it?’” McCulla said.

Council assisting Gray let that sentence hang in the air before continuing with his questions, the courtroom uncomfortably silent as it did.

Lillian Reeves told the commission that at no point did she mention to Garden View staff that she ever gave her husband Risperidone, nor did she ever consent to him being administered the drug by Garden View staff.

However, the women were convinced that their father was being medicated, telling the court that some days they had to wake him in between bites of a sandwich they were feeding him.

McCulla remembered an occasion where the whole family brought a home cooked lunch to Reeves. They found him unconscious but were told he was asleep.

As they tried to stir him, he started to gag and McCulla found a piece of meat lodged in his throat. McCulla cleared his throat, lifted her father up to rouse him, only to find he had soiled himself with faeces smeared all up his back.

“We left in tears that day,” McCulla said as she fought back tears in the witness box.

The family confronted staff, asking what drugs they had given to Reeves only for them to deny any medication had been administered – when in fact, he had been administered at least a full tablet of Risperidone on regular occasions.

“You could notice … he was no longer able to walk unassisted,” McCulla said.

An RN form Garden View gave evidence that she was told by Lillian Reeves it was fine to administer Risperidone up to three times daily.

“Well, if they’re saying that we informed them that that’s something that we would do at home, it’s 100 per cent incorrect,” McCulla said.

The court was also shown an email sent to the RN from a clinical nurse educator at Garden View, telling her not to display patients restrained to their chairs where visitors could see them.

The Reeves family have been left in no doubt that the time their father spent in respite had terrible effects on his life.

As Counsel assisting Gray summed up prior to the evidence: “After this period of six or so weeks… by 7 July he’s leaving Garden View, really, in a severely deconditioned state with very limited mobility. He’s lost the power of speech that he had before he went in and he’s incontinent.”

“It was awful,” McCulla told the court.

Remembering the interaction with the nurses who questioned both McCulla and sister Natalie Smith as to what was wrong with their father, she told the court: “Me and my sister were in tears in the central dining room this day saying, ‘You tell us. He is no longer the man that he [was when he] came in.’”

“And we left that day in tears. We couldn’t feed him. We couldn’t wake him.”

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