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Blame game over woman's "degrading" death while under care

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UPDATED: A political blame game has erupted in the wake of the death of an Adelaide woman with cerebral palsy in “disgusting and degrading” conditions while supposedly receiving help from a carer.

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Ann-Marie Smith died in the Royal Adelaide Hospital on April 6 from septic shock, multiple organ failure from severe pressure sores, and malnourishment.

The 54-year-old had been admitted the previous day with severe ulcerated and infected tissue and other serious conditions developed while receiving care at her Kensington Gardens home.

SA Police launched a manslaughter investigation into Smith’s death after a complaint was made to the Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner about the standard of care Smith received.

“Ann was living her days and sleeping at night in the same woven-comb chair in her lounge room for over a year,” Detective Superintendent Des Bray said.

“That chair became her toilet, and there was no fridge and investigators were unable to locate any nutritional food in the house.”

Disability provider Integrity Care SA said in a statement on Sunday that it has sacked the female carer responsible for Smith, and it had already been investigating her actions prior to police revealing the conditions Smith had been forced to endure.

“We trusted our carer and believe that we have been completely misled by her,” Integrity Care SA said.

In response to Smith’s death, the State Government has today announced a coronial inquiry as well as the establishment of a taskforce to examine the gaps in oversight and safeguarding for people living with a disability.

The taskforce will be chaired by disability advocate David Caudrey and include people with lived experience of disability.

Premier Steven Marshall said it would be formed immediately and begin making recommendations to the State Government and NDIS.

“We want to make sure we’re doing everything we possibly can to keep vulnerable people living with disability protected,” Marshall said.

“This case and the alleged horrific conditions in which Ann Marie Smith was living have sickened us … and we must make sure this can never ever happen again.”

Mashall said the coroner would begin an inquest into Smith’s death as soon as the criminal investigation was complete.

The announcement follows comments from Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink, who told ABC radio today that Smith was failed by “those who had a duty of care to protect her”.

“I’ve spoken to Dr David Caudrey who is our independent advocate for disability and we’re going to ensure all of the gaps that may be in the system, which may be the responsibility of the Quality and Safeguards Commission or maybe things the SA Government can do, that we can ensure we know people with red flags,” Lensink said.

“Because we had no line of sight over Ann Marie Smith’s situation, given she had transitioned but we do want to talk to the Commonwealth and a range of people with lived experience who understand the sector very well so we can close those gaps.”

But Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas this morning said the issue was linked to SA’s cancellation of the Community Visitor Scheme, a federally run initiative which connects volunteers with people living in social isolation.

He said Lensink had “received warnings from a number of different authorities, advocating for the continuation of the Community Visitor Scheme to be able to visit vulnerable South Australians, who are in the care of not-for-profit NDIS providers”, but they had been ignored.

“On two occasions the former community visitor, Maurice Corcoran, warned and asked the minister for the scheme to continue to visit those clients that are in the care of the NDIS providers,” Malinauskas said.

“The federal regulator recommended the continuation of the Community Visitor Scheme occur and the federal review made it clear that it had the capacity to continue.

“But despite this, Michelle Lensink made a decision to wind up the Community Visitor Scheme operations when it comes to those clients in the NDIS. And here we are with a tragic case in our hands of neglect that has shocked South Australians.”

Labor MP Nat Cook told InDaily the scheme was wound down by the State Government last year when the NDIS took responsibility for disability support.

“We are the only jurisdiction in Australia that has not responded to the changes that have been brought about by the NDIS,” Cook said.

“We are the only state in Australia that does not allow their community visitor to visit people in the community with disability.”

But Lensink said the scheme had continued and been “expanded” to care for people who were under guardianship but that the government “did not have line of sight” over Smith because she was receiving services with community visitors funded and regulated by the Quality and Safeguarding Commission.

“It has no legal right of entry into private homes, it never did, and it hasn’t undertaken those practices – it was established to have oversight of people in institutions,” Lensink said.

She said the scheme was not “the silver bullet the Labor Party” claimed it to be.

“Indeed the Labor Party opposed the establishment of the community visitor scheme in 2009 when I moved amendments in the Legislative Council and further it cashed out the service to the NDIS when it was in government.”

-with AAP

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