IT was April last year that the Newcastle Herald wrote a series of articles about the deaths of two former Stockton Centre residents soon after moving into a nearby group home.
With tensions running high about the closure of the Stockton Centre, some of those opposed to the policy said the deaths proved the legitimacy of their concerns.
Others pointed out that the complex health needs of the individuals involved meant that the move into a group home had no bearing on the situation.
Defence Minister Ray Williams, while offering his condolences to the families involved, said he had confidence in the quality of care, while referring the deaths, as a matter of policy, to the NSW Ombudsman.
Given that the ombudsman tends to report on a systemic, rather than individual basis, there were concerns at the time that an ombudsman’s report, when it eventually came, would reveal little.
But when the latest ombudsman’s report into four years of “reviewable deaths” in disability care was tabled on Friday, the first case study looked at the two Stockton deaths – and the hospitalisation of a third person – in some depth.
It found problems at the group home, but also at the Stockton Centre prior to transition. At the group home, it said: “We found that there were delays in the actions of staff to get medical assistance in response to indicators of critical illness for the three residents. For each of the residents, it was evident that, although staff recorded observations that were outside the normal range for the individual, this did not prompt them to obtain urgent medical assistance. Interviews with staff as part of the investigations identify that this was, at least in part, because most of the staff did not understand what the observation results meant.”
While it might be hoped that the Stockton cases are exceptions to the rule, the ombudsman found that 42 of the 494 deaths it investigated were “preventable”, including a number where people choked to death on their food.
At a time when the hype of the NDIS is all about a burgeoning world of choice being offered to people with disability, this ombudsman’s report is a timely reminder that for a substantial number of disabled people, the real need is for proper health and medical care, provided by trained, knowledgeable and attentive staff.