Opening of The Jamie Larcombe Centre

Steve, Tricia, Annmaree, April and Emily Larcombe open The Jamie Larcombe Centre, flanked by Minister for Health and Mental Health, Peter Malinauskas MLC, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Martin Hamilton-Smith MP, and Leesa Vlahos.

On Thursday 5 October 2017 The Jamie Larcombe Centre was officially opened by Jamie’s family, Steve, Tricia, Annmaree, April and Emily in front of a crowd of more than 300 spectators. The opening was attended by the Minister for Health and Mental Health, Peter Malinauskas MLC, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Martin Hamilton-Smith MP, federal and state politicians and a large contingent of serving and ex-serving personnel and their families including former Chief of Defence Force Sir Angus Houston and Commander Forces Command Major General Gus McLachlan.

Also in attendance were staff from Ward 17, representative of the 69 staff who will soon transfer from Daw Park to the new facility to continue the marvellous work they have been doing at the Repat Hospital since 1963.

Reflecting on the Centre Steve and Tricia Larcombe said “The Centre’s design is both sophisticated and sensitive. The light and warmth throughout reflects the compassion and care that those who come here seeking assistance deserve. The design and construction teams have delivered a Centre that would make Jamie proud.”

Minister Malinauskas said “Veterans deserve health care that not only meets their needs but truly honours the sacrifices they and their families have made in serving our nation.

I am proud that the South Australian Government is committed to the health and wellbeing of serving and ex-serving members of our community. It is fitting that the loss of one of our bravest, Sapper Jamie Larcombe, should inspire the future care of those who serve”.

Minister Hamilton-Smith added that “It has been my aim to ensure veterans and their families have access to the best healthcare available. The Jamie Larcombe Centre is a key step in that direction”.

For those unable to attend, reproduced below is an article authored by Clinical Head, Dr Taryn Cowain, that was written for inclusion in the opening booklet produced for the day.

Caring for our Veterans

Opened in 1963, 22 years after the formal opening of the Repatriation General Hospital (RGH), Ward 17 was renamed as Long Tan Ward in 1966. Since then it has been the home for mental health care for returned service personnel in South Australia. 

Over 53 years this unit has increasingly occupied a unique position as one which understands the concept of “trauma informed care,” even before the term was coined. Experience with many people of military background assisted staff to understand the unique nature of military service and the demands that high exposure to trauma places on service personnel and their carers. Staff, many of them with decades of experience, understand the need for non-judgemental, high standard mental health care.

Along with the 24 inpatient beds catering for a broad range of mental illness and associated comorbidities, there has been a small, hardworking clinical team providing one to one and group contact with those requiring ongoing outpatient care.

In 1996, acknowledging the specific needs of people with post-traumatic stress disorder, a unit was formed to provide intensive courses around this condition. After 21 years the unit has conducted nearly 110 courses for patients and their carers. Increased Australian Defence Force (ADF) operational tempo, combined with a significant expansion of ADF units in South Australia, has seen a rise in the demand for all components of the service.

In 2017 the Ward provides contemporary mental health care in a recovery model framework. A wide range of biological and psychological treatments are available along with more recent practices of mindfulness, tai chi, sensory modulation and yoga. The unit offers teaching placements for undergraduate medical, nursing and allied health students and postgraduate training for junior doctors, registrars and nursing graduates. There are ongoing and increasing links with ADF teams and with the Commonwealth Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS). Research is integral to the unit with both current staff and in-reaching clinicians investigating a broad range of topics.

Both the inpatient and ambulatory care services will transition to The Jamie Larcombe Centre in November 2017. While the move has led to strong feelings amongst both staff and patients, and the wonderful working relationships at the RGH will be sadly missed, it is testament to the dedication of all involved that the response to change has been positive and practical. Staff remain committed to the care of those accessing our services and have given their time freely to provide input into how a new unit should look and function. After extensive reviews of the best way to build a unit sensitive to the needs of veterans, from those more senior in years to serving members and contemporary veterans, women and men, those with children and those with service dogs, those with trauma related conditions and those with other mental illness – there was overall agreement with the final design of this new Centre.

Someone once said that a soldier should always be able to see a garden. The Jamie Larcombe Centre acknowledges this truism along with many other needs that those seeking sanctuary require. Recovery from the often devastating effects of mental illness requires space, peace, understanding, kindness and supporters prepared to also travel the journey. It requires high standards of evidence based and individual chosen care, alongside carer involvement, education and tailored programs which include attention to physical, social and spiritual needs.

The Ward 17 staff, who are all transferring to The Jamie Larcombe Centre, will be seeking to recreate the healing milieu of the past in impressive new surroundings. We are looking forward to getting on with the day to day business of health and wellness and to further providing needed services for our patients and consumers into the future.