THE mental health nurse in charge of caring for Ahlia Raftery at the time she was found dead in a Hunter psychiatric intensive care unit believes the 18-year-old may have taken her life during the night shift, a coronial inquest has heard.
Registered nurse Chit Chit Than was allocated care of the “highly intelligent and artistic” New Lambton teenager when she arrived to work the day shift at the Mater Mental Health Centre’s Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit [PICU] about 6.45am on March 19, 2015.
But during the handover, Ms Than was not told about two recent attempts Ahlia had made on her life, or that staff at another facility had removed a dangerous item from her room, the inquest, which is exploring a number of significant issues relating to Ahlia’s care during her final days, was told.
Ahlia was found dead in her room about 7.25am on March 19, 2015.
The 18-year-old was on 15-minute observations, meaning a staff member had to “sight” her at those intervals and note it down in a log, the inquest heard.
Counsel assisting Peggy Dwyer provided Ms Than with Ahlia’s observation log, which showed no signatures next to 7am or 7.15am.
Ms Than said she had “sighted” Ahlia both times, but hadn’t had a chance to write it down before Ahlia was found in her room.
Ms Than said both times Ahlia was in the same spot, standing upright behind her door, but said now she thought Ahlia could have already been dead.
When asked by Ms Dwyer if it was her view that Ahlia had taken her life during the night shift, Ms Than replied: “Yes”. Ms Than’s evidence caused Ahlia’s father, Michael Raftery, to break down in tears.
Ms Than herself had become overcome with emotion a number of times while giving evidence and had to take a break when discussing the lead-up to Ahlia’s death.
PICU Nurse Unit Manager Russell Lilly also gave evidence on Tuesday, telling the inquest a lack of a “paid handover” – a designated crossover period between two staff members at the change of shift – was a contributing factor in Ahlia not being appropriately observed around the time of her death.
Mr Lilly, who was involved in a review of the system since Ahlia’s death, said the PICU had undergone a number of significant safety improvements, including changes to the colour of the door to contrast the colour of bed sheets, better lighting in the unit and thicker sheets.
The inquest is expected to finish on Wednesday, before Deputy State Coroner Magistrate Derek Lee retires to prepare his written findings.