Meet Michael. Michael is a 70-year-old man with Huntington’s Disease. Every day he likes to walk through the gardens near his nursing home and stop for a coffee in Clifton Hill. A year ago Michael’s life was very different. He was transferred to St Vincent’s from police cells in Ballarat. It was the first step on a long road to recovery.
‘When Michael first came into the care of St Vincent’s he had a number of medical problems – he had chest pain and cardiac issues, he had his neurological condition which had been untreated for many years,’ says Dr Lauren Sanders, a neurologist who cared for Michael.
Michael spent several months in St Augustine’s, a secure ward for people in prison or police custody and, when bail was granted, he went to the neurology ward 10 West. Gradually, his health improved, but Michael needed much more than healthcare. Orphaned as a child, he had been living alone in a caravan in country Victoria, and he was still facing police charges. Staff from across St Vincent’s – including pastoral care, nursing, medicine, surgery, and allied health – came together to support Michael. In her own time, Dr Sanders drove to Ballarat, reaching out to Legal Aid, who was representing Michael.
‘I think the role St Vincent’s had here was the people connection. Everyone involved – the police officers, the lawyers, the magistrate – wanted what was best for Michael, but the system didn’t have the capacity to cater for the individual in this context. We were able to be that voice for Michael, to explain his needs in a way that was relatable for the people involved.’
When the charges were dropped, Dr Sanders was the one to deliver the news to Michael.
‘When I was able to tell him that this was all over, the smile on his face, I’ll remember that forever.’
‘I sent an email when I found out and in the title I put “a win for compassion and justice” because I felt that the whole organisation really got behind Michael as an individual. There was this sense of joy that we really had changed this man’s life.’
Michael is now a free man. Not only is his health much better, he’s made new friends along the way, including Pastoral Care worker Shaun Dowling, who visited Michael almost every day when he was in hospital, and Bernadette Mundy, the Manager of Briar Terrace, a place of welcome at St Vincent’s where people who are socially isolated can stop in for a cup of tea and some company.