South Australia’s minister for social services has apologized to the family of a disability care client found in soiled clothes and with an infected wound at a state-run care facility, but says claims that he was malnourished have been “exaggerated”.
- Mr D’s case came to light on Monday, when a report detailed the terms of his care
- Michelle Lensink says she apologized to her family but also defended responsible service
- She denied being “down” in the wake of the revelations
Michelle Lensink also dismissed comparisons between the case of the man known as Mr D and the notorious neglect of Ann Marie Smith, saying they were “unfair”.
On Monday, South Australia’s health complaints watchdog delivered a scathing assessment of the state-run Transition to Home disability scheme, which was responsible for Mr D’s care when he was taken handled by ambulance personnel on May 31.
Paramedics who were called to Hampstead Rehabilitation Center found Mr D wearing clothes soiled with faeces and urine and with an infected neck wound.
A few days after the ambulance was called, Mr D’s weight was measured at 57 kilograms – which was “below his identified healthy weight range” – and he was “identified to be at high risk of malnutrition,” according to the Complaints Commissioner for Health and Community Services. report.
Ms Lensink said she had apologized to the man’s family and said after speaking to her department she had “been assured that they have acted on all recommendations”.
“We recognized that there were shortcomings in this particular case and obviously we are very sorry about that,” she said.
“The unfortunate thing is that the case has been presented as being a lot of things that are not.
“These claims that Mr D was malnourished have been exaggerated. Our estimates are that we believe he could have lost up to 1.6kg at most and the fact that he was regularly doubly incontinent means that he there were times when it was soiled, but it was always cleaned.”
The minister also said it was ‘unfair’ to compare the case with that of Ann Marie Smith, whose former carer pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
“Ann Marie Smith’s caregiver was charged with negligence, criminal negligence. The commissioner made no findings of negligence in this case,” Ms Lensink said.
A lawyer denounces “computer management”
Opposition social services spokeswoman Nat Cook accused the minister of failing to face the media and prioritizing the election campaign.
“This situation deserves an explanation from the Minister herself, she should not hand it over to anyone else, Minister Lensink must explain what is happening [and] talk about the changes that were implemented by her and her department, rather than looking for votes,” she said.
But Ms Lensink denied having ‘taken to the ground’ following the revelations, saying she was available for the media when she visited Port Pirie on Tuesday but ‘no one has asked me about it. “.
She also defended healthcare staff, saying they were “diligent in trying to make sure people were taken care of”.
“Transition to Home services have had a number of people who have been quite complex and can be quite challenging for staff at times,” she said.
“There were aspects of the case – which are made public through the commissioner’s report – which demonstrate that he had daily bed baths and was seen by staff, but obviously the infection was the question of most concern.
“Mr. D sometimes refused things like having his beard trimmed and physically wouldn’t go in the shower.”
Disability advocate Richard Bruggeman said Mr D’s case raises questions about managerial competence and highlights how a lack of coordination between the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and providers leads to negligence.
Professor Bruggeman, former South Australia Senior of the Year, believes managers need a hands-on approach when it comes to vetting clients.
“Our management now in disability services is now largely computer-driven,” he said.
“Managers need to calm down – go see what’s going on in their organizations. I’ve documented many cases where organizations just don’t know what their employees are doing.”