'What nightmares are made of': Ann Marie Smith taskforce delivers findings

August 3, 2020
https://www.abc.net.au/cm/rimage/12372562-16x9-large.jpg?v=3

The South Australian Government will fast track the expansion of an adult safeguarding unit, after a report highlighted significant gaps in the disability care system that failed Ann Marie Smith.

Ms Smith died on April 6 from severe septic shock, multi-organ failure, severe pressure sores, malnutrition and issues connected with her cerebral palsy, after being confined to a cane chair for more than a year.

The 54-year-old had funding from the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) for six hours of care a day.

Her death sparked a manslaughter investigation by SA Police, and the SA Government announced a taskforce to investigate gaps in the disability care system.

The taskforce handed down interim findings in June, but has now delivered its final report.

The interim report identified a dozen “safeguarding gaps” — but that number has now expanded to 14.

It also includes seven recommendations for improvements, at state and federal levels.

Disability care recipient Ann Marie Smith.
Ms Smith’s death remains under investigation by SA Police.(Supplied: SA Police)

They include that the State Government address the need for “vulnerable NDIS participants to have regular health checks”, and “reaffirm the value of a community visitor scheme as an additional safeguard … and work with the Commonwealth to establish a complementary scheme”.

Another recommendation in the report urges the Government to “extend the scope of the Adult Safeguarding Unit” to include younger adults at risk of abuse, starting with people with disabilities.

The SA Health-run safeguarding unit was launched last year and aims to protect vulnerable adults at risk of abuse.

The Government today said it had accepted all of the recommendations, which also include providing funding for “individual advocacy” to “assist individuals with accessing what they need from the NDIS”.

Liberal MP Michelle LensinkLiberal MP Michelle Lensink
Michelle Lensink said the Government would implement all of the recommendations.(ABC: Angus Llewellyn)

SA Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink said the Government had been working with the Commonwealth and the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Commission to make the necessary changes.

“There are seven recommendations which the Government has already been actioning,” Ms Lensink said.

“The other action we have undertaken is to provide $1.8 million in funding for disability advocacy.”

‘What nightmares are made of’

The report found Ms Smith’s death had caused widespread anxiety within the community of people with disabilities.

“For people with disabilities … there is an overwhelming fear that what happened to Ann Marie could happen to them.

“For parents of children with disabilities, it sets fire to a pervading anxiety about ‘will my beloved son or daughter be looked after properly when I am gone?'”

Disability care advocate and former SA MP Kelly Vincent.Disability care advocate and former SA MP Kelly Vincent.
Kelly Vincent co-chaired the taskforce into safeguards in disability care.(ABC News)

The taskforce was co-chaired by Disability Advocate Dr David Caudrey and former Dignity MLC Kelly Vincent, who said they were happy with the Government’s response so far.

“There will be an ongoing consultation and monitoring process out of this … so the community knows where the Government is up to in terms of implementation of the report,” Ms Vincent said.

Asked what parts of the disability care system had failed Ms Smith, Ms Lensink said that she had not been identified as a “vulnerable person”.

“People with lived experience are at pains to ensure that the general community doesn’t see people with disability all as vulnerable,” she said.

“But there are specific things which relate to social isolation or people who might have physical limitations or people who have communication difficulties [who] should be viewed by the NDIA as being considered vulnerable.”

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