Incapacity ‘neglect’ case inquiry report would possibly keep below wraps

An investigation into the alleged neglect of a vulnerable man in an Adelaide government-run care facility is expected to take six months, with the investigator deciding whether it is “in the public interest” to openly publish the results.

Hampstead Rehabilitation Center. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

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

Commissioner Grant Davies is investigating the circumstances surrounding the alleged neglect of a man in the Transition to Home residential service of the Hampstead Rehabilitation Center’s Department of Human Services.

The man was rushed to hospital by ambulance in late May with a severely infected wound, after which doctors and paramedics complained about his condition.

A doctor told management that concerns were about “basic hygiene and care, including wound care”.

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

The authorities do not say where he is now being looked after.

InDaily asked Health and Community Services Commissioner Grant Davies several questions about its investigation, but a spokesman said it was inappropriate to comment as it was an ongoing investigation.

However, the commissioner reacted more accommodatingly to questions from the opposition.

In a letter to opposition health spokesman Chris Picton sent on August 17, Davies said: “This matter is being actively investigated by my office and I am overseeing this matter as Commissioner”.

“My practice is to oversee all investigations that are conducted from this office, and I have direct and ongoing oversight on things as sensitive as this,” he said.

“I would expect to close this issue within six months, but that depends on the complexity of the information we are receiving.

“Given the sensitivity and complexity of this matter, I am unable to give an expected closing date.”

Davies said that, with the matter still ongoing, he was unwilling to disclose who he had or intend to disclose, “or the amount of documentary evidence I am seeking or considering”.

“Once I have gathered all the necessary information and finalized the investigation report, I will consider whether it is in the public interest to report publicly on this matter,” he said.

Disability rights advocates and Picton want answers faster and are calling for the report to be published.

Rosey Olbrycht, Program Manager at Citizen Advocacy South Australia said, “I don’t understand why these things take so long, and I also don’t understand why there is no transparency”.

“It is disappointing that there is no more transparency and no more urgency to these matters,” she said.

Olbrycht said of what happened to Ann Marie Smith – who died in hospital last year of septic shock and organ failure after allegedly sitting in a cane chair for a year – “I would have thought the government had been a little bit more were”. I would like to have more transparency on these types of questions ”.

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

“It is in the public interest that these things get published,” she said.

“We have to know.”

Picton said, “Complaints about patient abuse are extremely grave, but there is still no explanation or accountability on the part of the Marshall Administration.”

“It is just unacceptable that (Human Services Minister) Michelle Lensink and (Health Minister) Stephen Wade are hiding behind an investigation that appears to be six months before they start answering questions,” he said.

“We still don’t know how many patients were affected, whether procedures have changed, and whether someone has been disciplined or reported to the police.

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

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

“And even if this investigation might be finished next year, it could be kept secret and never made public.”

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Picton urged the government to ask the commissioner to expedite the investigation and ensure the report is made public.

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

A government spokesman said: “Labor has miserably failed to investigate their own inadequacies during their term in office, so it is breathtaking that they are asking us now to tell an independent commissioner how to do his job”.

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

The 24-bed Transition to Home program opened in March last year at the start of the pandemic in Hampstead to accommodate people with disabilities who have been discharged from hospital and are awaiting more permanent placement.

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

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The DHS opened an internal investigation into the man’s case and also referred it to the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, although the commission claims it has no authority to investigate government services, only individual NDIS providers.

A disability service that helped care for the man at the center of the allegations said he “whistled” his poor condition and called an ambulance.

The NGO owner told InDaily last month that the man’s wound was pre-existing and in poor condition when her company was contacted to help with personal hygiene and wound care.

“We got into a situation that we hadn’t expected,” she said.

“We didn’t expect to find him like this. We did what we should be doing.

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

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