Nightmare of Tokanui

by barbznz

I came back from Tokanui in shock. I didn’t know what I was going to do. But I knew that Suzanne would not be loved and cared for in that place, all alone. 

I came up with a plan, I would do what the sister in charge of the ward did. If Suzanne had to go to Tokanui then so would I. I would work there and then I could keep an eye on her. That way I could keep her safe. It seemed like a good idea but then I thought about it some more. There is no way I could do that. No, I didn’t know how  but Suzanne was going to stay with me. I would fight till my last breath to keep her out of there.

I heard that Edna  went back to Tokanui the following year. When her mother picked her up, Edna had a serious hot water burn on her leg. When her mother asked how that had happened, the staff didn’t know. The reality was, all the patients in that ward were prone, they couldn’t access hot water themselves so it had to be a staff member who spilt the hot water on her. There was no accountability, no apology.

Edna’s parents were really angry, they went to IHC and said IHC needed to start provide community housing  for people with severe disabilities. It was unacceptable that she should have to  go to Tokanui for respite and be abused in that way.  Eventually, they agreed and opened a facility in Tauranga. 

 Years later when Tokanui was closing, a man I knew, with severe disabilities was moved into the community. One of his hands had been  tied to his wheelchair so he was easier to feed  He had terrible rash on that arm and no ointment came with him. It must have been really painful. You would think staff would have made some effort if only to cover up the obvious abuse

My questions is, how many others, permanent patients at Tokanui, experienced similar abuse. They had no one to make a fuss.  There was no community support particularly for people with severe disabilities. Their parents were told to institutionalise their children because it was for the best. The advise usually  included having another baby and forgetting about this child. 

The stories of these people generally remain untold. The horrors of their lives are buried with them. Some with the advent of deinstitutionalisation escaped to better lives in the community. But so many did not. 

And I dedicate this blog to them.

© Barbara Hart 2014,