South Australia’s State Disability Advocate David Caudrey is heading an investigation into the disability system in SA following the horrific death of an NDIS participant.
South Australian police on May 15 announced a major crime investigation following the death of 54-year-old Anne Marie Smith in hospital on April 6 from septic shock and multiple organ failure.
Ms Smith, who had cerebral palsy and lived on her own with a full time carer provided by Integrity Care SA, had been living in “unacceptable” conditions and died in “disgusting and degrading” circumstances police said, confined to chair for 24-hours a day for over a year with inadequate nutrition.
Provider ‘shocked and appalled’
In a statement on the day of the police announcement, Integrity Care SA said it was “shocked and appalled” and had sacked the carer.
“We trusted our carer and believe that we have been completely misled by her,” it said.
“Integrity Care SA extends its heartfelt sympathy to Ms Smith’s family and encourages anyone with relevant information or concerns to contact Crime Stoppers or the NDIS.”
Integrity Care said it had appointed an independent expert to review NDIS participants in its care.
Angliare SA confirmed it had previously subcontracted “a very small amount of work” to Integrity SA and that the carer had provided three visits to two customers in 2019.
It has since suspended its use of the provider.
“We have been in contact with the next of kin of our customers who had been receiving care services more recently from Integrity Care, to advise of the suspension of service,” Anglicare SA said in a statement.
Taskforce to investigate
The State Government announced on Monday it was establishing a taskforce headed by Mr Caudrey to identify gaps in oversight and safeguarding for people living with profound disability in South Australia.
The taskforce will make recommendations to the State Government and the NDIS.
“Ann Marie Smith’s recent tragic death has highlighted significant gaps in the NDIS system and we are determined to ensure all the proper safeguards are in place to prevent such an event happening again,” said Human Services Michelle Lensink said.
The NDIS said it had issued a compliance notice requiring the Integrity SA to immediately engage an independent and suitably qualified health professional check on the welfare of all NDIS participants receiving care services from the provider.
“We are closely monitoring their compliance with that notice,” it said in a statement.
It said the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission had taken action and the death was now in the hands of the appropriate authorities.
“The NDIS Commission will continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding Ms Smith’s death against the obligations of the provider and the NDIS support worker previously employed by the provider under the NDIS Act.”
NDIS minister Stuart Robert said he wanted answers and would wait until investigations were over.
“The oversight comes from the regulator and again there is a provider involved, there is a carer, there is a Local Area Coordinator and there may well be other guardians,” he told he told Adelaide radio station FIVEaa.
“We just need to establish the facts of who was supposed to be doing what and where. And did they, or did they not fail and to what extent.
“Once we understand that we can then work out how we’re going to do whatever we can to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
Labor leader Bill Shorten has called for a separate independent inquiry into the operation of the NDIS.
“I’ve got to say, if I was the minister and I had an agency putting out something like that, I’d kick their arse,” he said.
“For the agency to say we’re looking at the matter and we want to make sure that the provider is doing the right thing. Clearly, they haven’t. It’s not enough. That’s not accountable,” he told the ABC.
Community Visitor Scheme defended
Meanwhile the SA government has defended the Community Visitor Scheme following criticism that it had been cut back for NDIS particpants.
Ms Lensink said the CVS was still in place in South Australia and never had the role of visiting people in their private homes.
She told FIVEaa it was “simplistic” to suggest cuts
to the scheme could be restored.
“We’re in a different environment now that clients have transitioned to the NDIS,” she said.
She also said the CVS had about 40 people who visited between 500 and 1,000 South Australians each year.
“So it’s not the level of oversight that I think people are looking for,” she said.
Ms Smith’s death is also the subject of a manslaughter investigation and a coronial inquiry.
The Disability Royal Commission said late on Wednesday that it would not be launching an immediate inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death so as not to prejudice current criminal investigations.
“It is, however, open to the Royal Commission to undertake such an inquiry at a later stage and it will follow the progress of the other investigations,” Chair Ronald Sackville said.
Mr Sackville said that many aspects concerning the treatment and death of Ms Smith fell under the Royal Commission’s Terms of Reference, and would be part of the Royal Commission’s ongoing inquiry.
*Main image: Anne Marie Smith