Deputy Chief Psychiatrist Goes

Remember Kuruvilla George? He was a Human Rights Commissioner in Victoria, until he was silly enough to sign his name to a letter to the Senate inquiry into marriage equality.

The letter, from a far-right Christian front group called Doctors For The Family, peddled the usual Australian Christian Lobby approved lines about gay promiscuity and short lifespans, stemming from long-discredited propaganda generated by far-right evangelical American organisations. These ‘studies’ were cited in the letter.

Such an open display of prejudice rendered his position as a human rights commissioner untenable. Even Deputy Premier Peter Ryan’s support could not save him.

But he continued to hang onto his main job as Deputy Chief Psychiatrist of the State of Victoria with responsibility for  Aged Persons Mental Health. As such, I and many others queried his fitness to be overseeing the mental health of LGBTI seniors. There was the inevitable petition calling for his removal. At the time I said:

“Dr Kuruvilla George was appointed to the position of Deputy Chief Psychiatrist, Aged Persons Mental Health in 2002, “in recognition of the growing need for specific attention to be paid to aged persons’ mental health issues with the increasing ageing population.” (Chief Psychiatrists Report 2002)

Professor George also works at the Peter James Centre in East Burwood, which offers among other services, acute inpatient aged psychiatry beds and a residential aged care facility (mental health).

It is therefore inevitably part of the good doctors remit to care for GLBTI seniors mental health.”

As I pointed out, Prof George is a devout Roman Catholic, a former missionary, and a frequent speaker at Catholic symposia and to Catholic students. Religious orthodoxy insists that any depression and suicidal thought experienced by homosexuals arises from their homosexuality itself. Whereas it is actually generated by having had to live one’s life in an often violently disapproving society. Surely this must call into question his ability to care for the mental health of GLBTI seniors?

Dr Jo Harrison, a gerontologist specialising in GLBTI issues, has written of  “the fear experienced by GLBTI older people, who have lived through decades when being GLBTI was illegal, ‘sinful’ and was itself classified as a mental illness. It is understandable that this age cohort would be particularly afraid to be open about needs and preferences.”

The response of the then Chief Psychiatrist, Dr Ruth Vine (who has since resigned), to calls for George to be stood down because of these concerns was hardly adequate.

She stressed that she herself was free from any anti-gay prejudices, and there is every reason to believe her. But her assertion –  “that the role of Dr George was as an adviser for the elderly and that he did not involve himself with any gay and lesbian issues” – was hardly reassuring. Was she claiming that there were no elderly gays and lesbians with mental health issues?

This was all back in April and May. The petition languished. The government remained obdurate, and George retained his position. The caravan of attention moved on. 

Then last month the following ad appeared on a number of online job sites.

The Deputy Chief Psychiatrist – Aged Persons Mental Health reports directly to the Chief Psychiatrist and is responsible for the provision of advice in relation to the care and welfare of aged persons receiving treatment and care for a mental illness. This role includes enhancing the wellbeing of consumers and their carers within a recovery oriented model of care.

This position operates within the Mental Health, Drugs & Regions Division providing input into policy development, service system development and workforce development. The Deputy Chief Psychiatrist Aged Persons Mental Health is also expected to assist the Chief Psychiatrist in carrying out the role and functions of the office as required.

It seems that now the dust has settled, George is being quietly let go. He is also advertising for help at his other job:

Consultant Psychiatrist – Aged Person’s Mental Health – Peter James Centre

Temporary Full Time, Temporary Part TimeConsultant Psychiatrist Eastern Health – Aged Persons Mental Health Service

Fixed Term – Full Time or Substantive Sessional

Eastern Health’s Aged Persons Mental Health Service (APMHS) provides specialist mental health services to residents of the City of Whitehorse, Manningham,Maroondah, Knox, Yarra Ranges and part of the City of Monash.

Programs include an Assessment and Treatment Team, Triage Team, Intensive Community Team, Residential Support Program, an Acute Inpatient Unit and two Aged Persons Residential Care Facilities at Burwood East and Mooroolbark respectively.The APMHS requires a Consultant Psychiatrist to join our multi-disciplinary teams located at Peter James Centre.

The successful applicant will work in partnership with the Associate Program Director and Program Managers to lead and support the teams and the development and maintenance of coordinated, comprehensive and integrated mental health services.

The successful applicant will also be encouraged and supported to participate in further education, including professional development and research, as well as, training and education for junior medical staff.Enquiries to:

Professor Kuruvilla George

Clinical Director, Aged Person’s Mental Health

Prof Kuruvilla George, Ph: 88049920

Let’s hope that the new chief psychiatrist appoints as deputy someone better equipped to provide mental health care for GLBTI seniors. And that Professor George selects as his new aides some people who can do likewise, and help open his mind.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)