The death of Ann-Marie Smith, who died from serious illnesses that developed while receiving full-time care in her home provided by an employee of a disability care provider is a stark warning to potential users of the home care system.
The 54-year-old Adelaide woman suffered from cerebral palsy and lived alone in Adelaide’s leafy eastern suburbs before dying in what has been described as “disgusting and degrading” conditions.
Ms Smith died in Royal Adelaide Hospital on April 6 from septic shock, multiple organ failures from severe pressure sores, and malnourishment. She had apparently been living and sleeping in the same chair in her lounge room for over a year.
While the carer was sacked by the provider, Integrity Care SA for her “serious and wilful misconduct”, Ms Smith’s death has been declared a major crime.
If your family member died in this situation, do you think simply sacking the employee would be enough? To what extent does the provider carry responsibility for their employee’s conduct?
The ongoing nature of the neglect endured by Ms Smith highlights the need to strengthen the accountability and penalty regulations applying to Commonwealth funded aged care services providers.
Rather belatedly, the federal government has announced that a Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) mandatory reporting framework will be introduced into residential aged care providers from 1 July 2021 which will implement greater reporting of incidents involving residents. Potentially, SIRS may be extended into home and community aged care.
The lack of oversight of both in-home care and residential aged care has been the subject of a number of investigations and reports, with little regulatory action to date.
Under the proposed SIRS framework, care providers will be required to report on a broader range of incidents, including neglect, psychological or emotional abuse and inappropriate physical or chemical restraint. Significantly, it will also lift the current exemption on the reporting of resident on resident incidents, where the perpetrator has an assessed cognitive impairment.
The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission will receive incident reports and will have enhanced powers to administer the SIRS, including taking regulatory action where needed.
As part of the ongoing feasibility study, funding has been included to investigate the design, implementation and regulation of a worker register for aged care.
A 2019 report done by KPMG, Strengthening protections for older Australians, commissioned by the Department of Health, estimated that there were more than 20,000 unexplained serious injury incidents which were not reported under the current system. Any reform of the current aged care system is seen as increasing the regulatory burden on providers to report and respond to serious incidents with an accompanying increase in staffing of the Commission to deal with reports.
The sooner a mandatory reporting scheme is introduced, more deaths like Ann-Marie Smith’s can be prevented.
Sen R Colbeck media release, https://www.richardcolbeck.com.au/press-releases, 14/06/20
Dept of Health release, https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/strengthening-protections-for-older-australians, Feb 2019