The Federal Government says it “wants answers” on the death of disability care recipient Ann-Marie Smith in what police described as “degrading circumstances”, as pressure mounts on federal and state authorities to explain how her case was overlooked.
- Ann-Marie Smith died from severe pressure sores and malnutrition, among other complications
- Integrity Care SA said it was “misled” by Ms Smith’s carer, who has been sacked
- The State Government is now calling for spot checks to be conducted on vulnerable cases
Ms Smith, 54, died on April 6 from severe septic shock, multi-organ failure, severe pressure sores, malnutrition and issues connected with her cerebral palsy, after being stuck in a cane chair for 24 hours a day for more than a year.
She lived alone at her Kensington Park home in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs and relied on a carer for all of her needs.
Her carer has since been sacked by care provider Integrity Care SA, and police have launched a criminal investigation into the circumstances of her death, which have caused widespread public shock and anger.
Federal Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Stuart Robert today said the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission was also investigating the case.
“I want answers. We will wait [until] those investigations are complete.
“We will seek to release the information as quickly as possible to the Australian people so they have an understanding of what happened and we will look to how we can learn and improve.”
Mr Robert said he spoke to South Australia’s Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink several times about the matter over the weekend.
Ms Lensink admitted she only found out about Ms Smith’s case last Friday — more than a month after her death — after SA Police declared it a major crime and opened a manslaughter investigation.
Ms Lensink has now called for spot checks to be conducted once every three months on vulnerable people in care in a bid to help “close the gaps” in the system.
She said responsibility for oversight lay with the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission and said she and Premier Steven Marshall had voiced their concerns to the Federal Government.
“The Government is very shocked. I said I think this is shocking and we’re going to need some system changes,” she said.
Detective Superintendent Des Bray last week said Ms Smith had been allowed to die in “disgusting and degrading circumstances”.
He said her carer attended Ms Smith’s home on April 5 and called an ambulance after discovering her in a “semi-conscious state”.
She was taken to the Royal Adelaide Hospital, where she had major surgery to remove rotting flesh from severe pressure sores on her body.
No ‘line of sight’ over care
Ms Lensink said the case had been missed because oversight of Ms Smith’s care was managed by federal authorities.
She said the State Government had “no line of sight” over Ms Smith’s case or disability services, “except for the ones that are in our own state-run facilities or anybody who’s under guardianship”.
“We did not have line of sight over Ann-Marie Smith because she was receiving services which were funded and regulated by the Quality and Safeguards Commission,” she said.
She said a community visitor scheme had been expanded but had “no legal right of entry” into private homes.
Yesterday, the care provider responsible for Ms Smith, Integrity Care SA, terminated Ms Smith’s carer’s employment due to her “serious and wilful misconduct”.
“We trusted our carer and believe that we have been completely misled by her,” a statement read.
Opposition says ‘this system has failed’
Disability advocate Kelly Vincent, who also has cerebral palsy, said it was hard to put into words the vulnerability recipients felt when needing high levels of care.
She questioned why Ms Smith only had one carer working with her unsupervised.
“Where the hell is the Quality and Safeguard Commissioner?” she said.
Labor spokesperson for human services, Nat Cook, said someone needed to take responsibility over the death.
“This situation is one of the worst I’ve heard of. Action needs to happen immediately to make sure everyone in South Australia is safe,” she said.
“This system has failed Ann-Marie Smith, Ann-Marie Smith passed away more than a month ago. A government authority knew about this, the Minister didn’t know about this.”
Acting principal community visitor Anna Gale said the case had raised the issue of who is responsible for checking up on vulnerable residents with disabilities.
“Services that are not state-funded — the state has a view that that’s not their responsibility, and the Commonwealth Government has a Quality and Safeguards Commission that doesn’t do proactive visits, it does reactive visits,” she said.
“The NDIA, the NDIS system, sets up the plan and they should have been putting those things in place.”
Former opposition leader Bill Shorten, who helped set up the NDIS when in government, also questioned why nobody had checked on Ms Smith.
“This is terrible. But if the Government’s providing services into individuals homes and these are vulnerable people … how come no-one was checking?” he said.
“There has to be an audit function. There has to be a checking-on-people function. Clearly, there hasn’t been.”