Private mental health unit goes public

A government lifebuoy has been thrown to the ailing mental health clinic in Cockburn, which was run by Bethesda until its abrupt closure earlier this year.

The State Government has signed a three-year agreement to lease the clinic previously operated by Bethesda, delivering a boost to public mental health services in the southern suburbs. 

South Metropolitan Health Service will operate the state-of-the-art, purpose-built facility in Cockburn, with services to progressively commence at the clinic in the coming weeks. 

Under SMHS’s management, initial planned services will include two floors dedicated to a women’s mental health facility, with a particular focus on eating disorder services, and mixed-gender Alcohol and Other Drug and addiction withdrawal services.  

As well as 75-beds, the clinic features a mental health wellness and recovery centre to provide outpatient therapies and specialist consulting suites. 

It is expected that several of the clinic’s existing outpatient psychiatric services will continue to be provided, including models of care tailored to veterans and first responders, and under the new arrangement, some 25 beds will be reserved for mixed-gender alcohol and drug addiction withdrawal services. 

Bethesda announced it would cease operating its private mental health clinic from February, even though it was only opened in March last year after seven years of intense planning, building, and commissioning – with a price tag of more than $60 million.  

In a statement issued at the time, Bethesda said that despite best efforts, the service was not financially viable. 

More than 100 staff were affected by the closure and SMHS has recruited staff from the Bethesda clinic for new roles with the public health service, with WA Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson confirming that about 50 had accepted. 

“All existing staff have been given the opportunity to take up roles with SMHS to work at the clinic or other important public health care facilities,” she said. 

“Having a facility that is focused mostly on women and their wellbeing I think is going to be incredibly important for the community. For women fleeing domestic violence, for women with multiple traumas, for women who have complexities and drug and alcohol issues, to be able to have an environment that is solely focused on the needs of women. 

“And it is simply a fact that it the majority of eating disorders are inflicted on women.” 

WA Premier Roger Cook said that initially the service would offer two floors for women only, with a focus on providing eating disorder treatment services. 

Construction is also underway on 40 additional mental health beds at Fremantle Hospital as part of a $63 million redevelopment and the Government has announced $46.6 million in funding to bolster mental health crisis care services for children and adolescents, delivering more Acute Care and Response Teams (ACRTs) for WA. 

New ACRTs will be established in the Great Southern and North and South metropolitan regions, with the existing East Metropolitan pilot service to be extended, through a $22.4 million investment in the 2024-25 State Budget. 

ACRTs will provide mobile outreach and crisis support services for children up to the age of 17 years and their families as a key pillar of the Infant, Child, and Adolescent Taskforce.  

Additionally, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service’s Crisis Connect service will be extended, to support children and their families to remain at home while waiting for an appointment with a CAMHS team, through a $19.5 million investment. 

Since the introduction of the service in July 2020, Perth Children’s Hospital ED mental health attendances have reduced by 10%. 

For regional patients, the WA Country Health Service Brief Crisis Intervention Service will be extended, with $4.7 million invested in the State Budget to continue the service to 2025-26.