State Government accepts recommendations by disability Safeguarding Task Force set up after Annie Sm
But the proposed reboot of a state-run scheme allowing community visitors to enter the homes of people with a disability presents “a significant human rights issue” that needs to be seriously considered.
The Safeguarding Taskforce on Monday published its final report into the disability sector, outlining 14 safeguarding gaps and making seven recommendations – all of which the government has accepted.
The 12-member taskforce – comprising experts, disabled people, family members, carers and advocates – was established in May after the death of neglect victim Annie Smith, who was a National Disability Insurance Scheme client.
But the Opposition says the final report fails to specifically address the government’s failures into its handling of Ms Smith’s case.
SA Police is investigating the circumstances leading to the “disgusting and degrading” death of Ms Smith, 54, from severe septic shock and multiple organ failure in April.
Ann Marie Smith in 2011, with her dogs Maggie and Deana. Picture: SA Police
They have launched a manslaughter inquiry into her treatment and the NDIS commissioner has appointed former Federal Court judge Alan Robertson to lead an independent inquiry.
Police said Ms Smith spent most of the year leading up to her death in an almost sedentary state. She was living in putrid conditions in a woven cane chair in the lounge room of her home that was soaked in urine and faeces.
Among the seven recommendations of the task force, co-chaired by disability advocates Dr David Caudrey and Kelly Vincent, and accepted by the government included:
BRINGING forward the expansion of the adult safeguarding unit so that its scope includes vulnerable adults of any age, to October 1, 2020, from 2022
PROVIDING an additional $1.8 million to continue the work of the disability advocate and to support individual disability advocacy in SA.
DEVELOPING and signing new information-sharing guidelines with the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Commission.
Dr Caudrey said the possibility of a case such as Ms Smith’s happening again was one of the nightmares.
“There is always a possibility where terrible neglect is involved and people are very socially isolated … in those circumstances bad things can happen,” Dr Caudrey said.
“All you can do is identify all the reasons why this might happen and try to do your best to close those gaps and mitigate those circumstances.
“I feel very confident that if all these things are implemented what happened to Ann Marie Smith will be infinitely less likely to happen in the future.”
The former home of Ann Marie Smith's parents in the Burnside Council area. Half of the proceeds of the house’s sale was inherited by Ms Smith. Picture: Matt Loxton
Ms Vincent said disabled people without a support network were left vulnerable by the system.
“We are literally losing lives in SA and all across the nation by not putting these safeguarding measures, including advocacy and the rights of modern technology, in place,” she said.
The taskforce’s final report found the Community Visitor Scheme, which was wound back after 2018 when responsibility for disabled care moved to the federal level with the advent of the NDIS, was a complex matter that should not be rushed.
“Coercive powers to enter private homes is also a significant human rights issue,” the task force found.
“If such powers for a visitation scheme was to be seriously considered, people with disabilities should be first consulted.”
Ms Vincent said there needed to be a “much more nuanced conversation” to avoid a kneejerk response.
Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink said the government would work hard to identify people who were at risk because Ms Smith was not identified as vulnerable.
“We want to ensure that people living with a disability are safe, supported and have access to the best care possible,” Ms Lensink said.
“There is not a particular single safeguard to keep people safe. It’s a range of things that come together to assist people to have multiple sets of eyes and multiple contacts in the community.
“Ann Marie Smith was let down over a number of years by a serious of system failures and we are determined to correct them.”
However, Ms Lensink would not comment on the status of Integrity Care and referred questions to SA Police and the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Commission.
“The task force was not looking into the circumstances of Ann Marie Smith’s death,” she said.
Opposition human services spokeswoman Nat Cook said the final report showed a “distinct lack of accountability by the government”.
“By failing to take responsibility for what this government does have control over, it is just kicking the can down the road blaming the federal system,” Ms Cook said.