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Disability 'neglect' case inquiry report might stay under wraps

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An inquiry into the alleged neglect of a vulnerable man at a State Government-run Adelaide care facility is likely to take six months, with the investigator to then decide if it’s “in the public interest” to openly release the findings.

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Disability neglect concerns

The Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner says the “sensitive” case – revealed by InDaily in June – is under “active investigation” but answers into what went wrong are still months away.

Commissioner Grant Davies is investigating the circumstances around the alleged neglect of a man being cared for at the Transition to Home residential service run by the Department of Human Services at Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre.

The man was rushed to hospital by ambulance at the end of May with a severely infected wound, prompting doctors and paramedics to lodge complaints about his condition.

One doctor told management the concerns centred around “basic hygiene and care, including wound care”.

The man spent several weeks in hospital and was only recently released.

Authorities won’t say where he is now being cared for.

InDaily asked Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner Grant Davies several questions about his investigation but a spokesperson said it would be inappropriate to comment because it was an ongoing investigation.

However, the Commissioner was more forthcoming in response to questions asked by the Opposition.

In a letter to Opposition health spokesperson Chris Picton, sent on August 17, Davies said “this matter is under active investigation by my office and I am overseeing this matter as Commissioner”.

“My practice is to have oversight of all investigations run out of this office and with something as sensitive as this matter, I have direct and ongoing oversight,” he said.

“I would anticipate finalising this matter within six months but that will depend on the complexity of the information we receive.

“Given the sensitivity and complexity of this matter, I am not in a position to nominate an expected date of completion.”

Davies said because the matter was ongoing, he was not prepared to disclose who he had or was intending to interview “or the breadth of the documentary evidence I am seeking or am taking into account”.

“Once I have gathered all the information I require and finalised the investigation report, I will apply my mind to whether it is in the public interest to report publicly on this matter,” he said.

Disability rights advocates and Picton want answers sooner and are demanding the report be made public.

Citizen Advocacy South Australia program manager Rosey Olbrycht said “I don’t understand why these things take so long and I also don’t understand why there’s no transparency”.

“It’s disappointing that there’s not more transparency and that these matters are not given more urgency,” she said.

Olbrycht said given what happened to Ann Marie Smith – who died in hospital last year of septic shock and organ failure after allegedly being left to sit in a cane chair for a year – “I would have thought that the government would have been a bit more keen to have more transparency around these sorts of issues”.

She said the investigation findings and report should be made public.

“It’s in the public interest for these things to be released,” she said.

“We need to know.”

Picton said “complaints about the abuse of people in care is extremely serious, yet there’s still no explanation or accountability from the Marshall Government”.

“It’s just not acceptable that (Human Services Minister) Michelle Lensink and (Health Minister) Stephen Wade hide behind an inquiry that will apparently take another six months, before they start answering questions,” he said.

“We still don’t know how many patients were impacted, whether any procedures have changed, and whether anyone has been disciplined or reported to Police.

“Is there any risk to any patients today? We just don’t know because the government refuses to answer questions.

“What exactly are Ministers Lensink and Wade doing about this? It would be negligent to sit on their hands for six months.

“And even when this inquiry is complete maybe next year, it might be kept secret and never released.”

Picton called on the government to ask the Commissioner to expedite the inquiry and make sure the report is released.

“I would encourage anyone who has concerns about this service to come forward and speak to the Commissioner or publicly to the media so the truth can come out,” he said.

A government spokesperson said “Labor failed dismally to investigate their own inadequacies while in government so it’s breathtaking that they are now asking us to tell an independent Commissioner how to do his job”.

“We welcome the Commissioner’s independent investigation into this matter and will await the findings,” the spokesperson said.

The 24-bed Transition to Home program was opened at Hampstead in March last year at the start of the pandemic, to house people with disabilities discharged from hospital and awaiting more permanent accommodation.

SA Health owns Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre but the Transition to Home program is managed by the Department of Human Services (DHS).

DHS launched an internal inquiry into the man’s case and also referred it to the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, although the Commission says it doesn’t have the power to investigate state government-run services, only individual NDIS providers.

A disability support service that helped care for the man at the centre of the allegations says it “blew the whistle” on his poor state and called an ambulance.

The owner of the non-government organisation told InDaily last month that the man’s wound was already present and in a bad way when her company was contacted to assist with personal care and wound dressing.

“We walked into a situation we didn’t expect,” she said.

“We didn’t expect to find him like that. We did what we were supposed to do.

“We are the ones who called the ambulance, we are the ones who blew the whistle, to say something was wrong here.”

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