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Bendigo Health pleads guilty over death of psychiatric patient at Alexander Bayne Centre

Bendigo Health pleaded guilty to failing to ensure patient safety. (ABC News: Tyrone Dalton)

Bendigo Health has pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the safety of a psychiatric patient who took her own life in 2016.

The woman, who cannot be named, was found unresponsive in a shower at the Alexander Bayne Centre – a psychiatric facility – in late August that year.

She was moved to the hospital's intensive care unit but her life support was later turned off.

Today the Bendigo Magistrates Court heard it was the second time mental health nurses had found the woman with a plastic bag.

Worksafe prosecutor James Henderson told the court he characterised the crime as mid-range because nurses had failed to remove plastic bags from "very vulnerable patients' rooms".

Bendigo Health's lawyer Garry Livemore QC told the court the hospital's proud history of compliance with work health and safety laws ended today.

"That's a very significant factor in any case, and we don't urge Your Honour to do anything else today other than to impose a conviction on Bendigo Health and that in itself is the most significant penalty for the contravention," Mr Livemore told the court.

"The seriousness of the breach is really to be measured … by the extent of the failure of the duty.

"Here it wasn't a failure to have in place any system at all.

"It was a hole in the system that was identified during the investigation."

Bendigo Health will reappear in court next month for sentencing. (ABC Central Victoria: Tyrone Dalton)

Increased observation

On August 8, 2016 the woman was admitted into the Alexander Bayne Centre.

The court heard the woman was seen by nurses earlier in the day, walking dangerously in traffic.

Four days later a nurse found her on the floor of her room with a plastic bag, leading mental health workers to increase their observations to every 15 minutes for the next 24 hours.

The court heard in the early hours of August 25, 2016 the woman was again found on her the floor of her room, and again, the hospital increased its observations for the next 24 hours.

Two days later the woman was found unconscious in a shower in the women's communal bathroom.

She was moved to the intensive care unit before her life support system was disconnected and she was pronounced dead.

The woman presented to Bendigo Health's emergency department three weeks before her death. (Supplied: Bendigo Health)

Changes made after tragedy

The court heard an investigation by Bendigo Health, WorkSafe and the Coroner could not determine where the plastic bag had come from.

Mr Livemore told the court there was some confusion about when Bendigo Health directed its contractor to use biodegradable bags in the bins in its psychiatric units.

The court heard that Bendigo Health could face a fine of up to $388,000 because it was pleading guilty in the lower court.

It heard a conviction in the County Court could have carried a fine of up to $1.4 million.

Mr Livemore told the court, as soon as Bendigo Health was charged, it took steps to try to reach an agreement with the prosecution to resolve the matter.

"There was a system in place to prevent plastic bags from entering the centre, but there was a hole in the system found and that hole in the system was the contractor using plastic liners in the sanitary bins in the centre," he said.

"As soon as that was identified, remedial action was taken straight away to prevent that from happening, and training and an audit system put in place to ensure a plastic bag wouldn't sneak in."

A sentence will be handed down on September 6.

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