TWO Bega mental health nurses were among 12 from around the state who were last week awarded for completing the Bob Fenwick Memorial Mentoring Program.
Registered nurses from the Bega District Hospital in-patient mental health unit Brendan Garry and Hayley Lewis completed the program earlier this year and were recognised at a special ceremony in Sydney last Friday.
Both Mr Garry and Ms Lewis were mentored in the area of forensic mental health, the area dealing with those patients charged with serious crimes, but unable to progress through the court system due to their illness.
Ms Lewis outlined the examples of someone found not guilty of a crime due to mental illness, or someone assessed to be unfit to plea.
Mr Garry said he has been committed to the mental health sector for 30 years, but had limited experience with such an area.
Both he and Ms Lewis said while some of their patients had a criminal history or issues with drugs, serious court case referrals were rare in this region.
“We don’t have a lot of forensic patients here, but when a couple came through I realised I just didn’t have the expertise needed to help them,” Mr Garry said.
“The mentoring program was a great opportunity to follow through that interest in forensic health.
“It was massive – it taught me the amazing professionalism of staff at the larger city hospitals.
“We’re on the same level as them, but they are on a different level if that makes any sense – they are dealing with some hardcore stuff.”
Mr Garry and Ms Lewis stayed with their mentors for an intensive week of learning.
Mr Garry said it was an honour to represent the Bega district, especially as he is in his early 50s.
“That’s the great thing about the program – I thought my grey hair might be a complication.
“But they had the view that us grey-haired ones can bounce ideas around just as much.
“We could all bounce ideas off each other to remain contemporary.
“I hope people back in Bega feel better about having nurses with this sort of top level experience.”
Ms Lewis was just as enthusiastic about her time in the program.
She has previously worked in geriatric psychology and emergency nursing before joining the Bega mental health unit 18 months ago.
“It was a massive eye-opener and an opportunity I thought I would’ve never been able to experience in this area,” she said.
“The mentors were so accommodating and we learnt so much from them.
“I’m so thankful to have participated, to have had to the opportunity.”
Nurse unit manager of the Bega District Hospital mental health unit John Willington said the mentoring program was of particular benefit for mental health mentees from regional and rural areas.
However, he was sure the mentors benefitted as well.
“Anything that adds to the pool of ideas is great,” Mr Willington said.
“There is no forensic unit in the Southern NSW Local Health District – the nearest is in Shellharbour.
“There is a difficulty in accessing these specialty services, so anything that builds on local knowledge is good news.”
THE Bob Fenwick Memorial Mentoring Program was established in honour of Bob Fenwick who died in January 2011 from stab wounds received while defending a female nursing colleague, Emily Pritchard, who was being attacked by a patient.
Prior to his tragic death, Mr Fenwick was well known as an excellent mental health nurse and a mentor of younger and less experienced nurses.
The program provides an opportunity for registered nurses working in the area of mental health and employed by the public health system to undertake a five-day placement in a mental health service other than their usual place of employment.
Mentees can undertake specific placements to complement their own experience and help develop their local service expansion.
Program funding is provided by NSW Ministry of Health and administered by NSW Nurses and Midwives Association.