Strict supervision measures placed on residents at the St Vincent De Paul home for the elderly are to be "relaxed", Active Aging minister Jo Etienne Abela said on Monday.

Abela was speaking during a media briefing on the results of an internal investigation on the disappearance of Charlie Fino, also known as Karmenu and Charlie, who was caught on CCTV leaving the Luqa home at 3am on June 28. 

In his inquiry findings, retired judge Geoffrey Valenzia pinned the responsibility for Fino's disappearance on the staff on duty that night. 

St Vincent de Paul management subsequently escalated its security measures, with elderly residents ordered not to leave their wards, go for a walk or attend mass unless accompanied by a nurse, carer or relative.

Residents have spoken against the new strict measures, saying that their privacy and freedom have been stripped away from them as they are being placed under constant watch. 

Speaking on Monday, the minister said that change was afoot. 

“The measures which have been added to the home are temporary and will be relaxed because now we have peace of mind that we have more security and we are working to ensure a robust safety plan is in place so such an accident like this does not happen again,” Abela said on Monday.

'Damage control actions'

Abela said that the strict measures were a form of "damage control". 

"When a 'never event' such as this happens, we adopt a 'damage control' situation," he said. 

"Until the results of the inquiry were published, I did not know whether what happened was a result of a system failure. We did not want this to happen again any time soon, so damage control came into place and the concept of open and close wards had to be revised."

He said since then, security presence has increased. 

"You may ask, why didn't we introduce more security in the first place? That is because the concept of the open and close wards was never challenged before, but now we have more security presence, so more people watching CCTV monitors properly."

He said his ministry's top priority is the safety and well-being of the residents. 

"We want there to be a robust system in place, and that is what we are working on," he said. 

Among the changes planned for the state-run residence is a system that allows staff to assess the mental alertness of residents. Residents deemed to be alert and lucid will be granted passes that allow them to freely leave their ward.  

The minister said the assessment is intended to improve the safety of the same residents. A team of professionals is currently working out the best way to test and assess the patient’s cognitive abilities, he added. 

"This way we can know who can go out with their family and who can walk around the gardens. This way we will know what residents can and cannot do."

He said he is aware that there have been complaints following the "regrettable" restrictions and said no one enjoys it when their freedom is restricted.

"What we do not want is a system which is not robust. We are doing this process and assessments for the safety of the residents. With more security staff monitoring the CCTV cameras, that automatically means the restrictions will melt away with time," Abela said.

He said that the inquiry conclusions had set his mind somewhat more at ease.

"I have not slept properly since the beginning of the investigations," he said, "but my mind is at peace in a way, because this is not a system failure," he said. 

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