Tad’s Legacy

Early in Tad’s life his light shone very bright. He was extraordinarily charismatic and personable. He was greatly loved by those who knew him for his generosity, humour, warmth, intelligence, and love of life. Many thought he would make a huge positive contribution to any field. But in middle life he became a chronic alcoholic and in later years his life increasingly crumbled around him. At the end, Tad was critically ill and required frequent medical treatment either presenting or being admitted constantly to hospital for liver disease and other ailments associated with alcohol abuse. After addressing his acute symptoms, he was discharged back to the community only to present again weeks later in a persistent downward spiral. A few days after being admitted to hospital for the last time, he began hallucinating, became increasingly agitated and aggressive, and was judged incompetent and at risk of harming himself. But in this state, he was able to walk out of hospital without anybody noticing and disappear. Imagine then three months later the shock for Tad’s loved ones of his body being found close to that same hospital, his corpse partially mummified and grotesque after rotting in the open, exposed to an intensely hot Australian summer.

That Tad was able to sneak off and leave hospital while in its care and so sick was the first mistake in this tragedy. Police who were called to help return him to treatment insisted they would only respond to an email. This was the second mistake when time was critical. The email was incorrectly addressed which was not realised for a full day. That was the third mistake. It is likely all three proved fatal and undermined any real chance of finding Tad before he died. But they weren’t the only mistakes by a long way.

Tad’s tragedy highlights how misunderstood is the life-threatening nature of alcohol withdrawal. It shows the need for ongoing training for both police and hospital staff regarding people who go missing. It spotlights systemic problems in key institutions due to policy, practice, and procedural failures. It raises questions about whether a power imbalance evident at a public hospital between doctors, nurses and a wardsman undermined the care of a patient, and if a workforce heavily reliant on staff from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds were contributing factors. One of several major issues that remains is an ongoing tension between someone’s human right to refuse care and the preservation of their life when suffering a temporary mental health episode, something health professionals deserve greater clarity and guidance on which may well require legislative change. It also questions whether an inadequate initial police response could go to prejudice based on previous involvement with him, was a consequence of a lack of supervision and support for an inexperienced officer on his first missing person case, or was a failure to crank up an investigation during a relaxed and extended holiday period.