Mar 18, 2024

Grandma who weighed only 24kg when she died was neglected, finds coroner

Grandma who weighed only 24kg when she died was neglected, finds coroner
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In a harrowing case of elder neglect, Coroner Robert Webster has determined that Dorothy Jean Atkins, an 83-year-old Tasmanian grandmother who passed away in July 2017, suffered from severe neglect at the hands of her primary carer, her son David Baldock.

The oversight by the government agency, Services Australia, charged with disbursing carer’s payments, failed to ensure the adequacy of care provided, according to the coroner’s findings.

The inquest into Ms. Atkins’ death, held in August 2022, revealed distressing details about her final days in the home she shared with Baldock in Tasmania’s north.

On 14 March, 2024, Mr. Webster concluded that Ms. Atkins succumbed to meningitis with sepsis, originating from an untreated and extensive pressure ulcer. The autopsy painted a grim picture of neglect, showing Ms. Atkins at a mere 24.5 kilograms, with significant muscle wasting, minimal fat, and visible bony prominences.

Further evidence of neglect was noted in Ms. Atkins’ poor hygiene, with the coroner highlighting faecal matter under her fingernails and poorly maintained toenails contributing to discomfort and potential balance issues.

Moreover, Ms. Atkins had not received medical attention from her general practitioner for a year, despite recommendations for monthly check-ups.

Mr. Webster found that while both Baldock and his sister Wendy Smith, who also participated in their mother’s care, seemed to have depended on Ms. Atkins to communicate her care needs, they did not exercise the necessary judgement to ensure those needs were met.

This lack of oversight and independent judgement led to inadequate medical care, insufficient community support, subpar hygiene, poor nutrition, and the use of inappropriate medication.

Last week, the coroner emphasised that although there was no evidence of intentional neglect or exploitation for financial benefit on the part of Baldock and Smith, their neglect appeared to stem from a reckless disregard for Ms. Atkins’ care requirements, likely due to ignorance and a lack of understanding of the support services available.

The absence of checks and balances from Services Australia to validate the proper use of public funds for caregiving is especially troubling, as highlighted by Mr. Webster.

The coroner pointed out that Baldock, who had been receiving a carer’s pension for approximately 20 years, was not adequately instructed on his obligations nor educated on the available supports for elderly community members.

This lack of action and failure to ensure that Baldock could and did provide the necessary level of care, raises serious concerns about the overall system’s effectiveness in safeguarding the welfare of those under carer-supported living arrangements.

The coroner’s report calls attention to the critical need for systemic reform to prevent such cases of neglect, ensuring that those who rely on carers, and those who receive public funds to provide such care, are properly assessed, instructed, and monitored to uphold the standards of care our elderly population rightfully deserves.

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