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Adelaide woman’s ‘degrading’ death shows community’s ‘devaluation’ of people with disabilities – ABC News

By Eugene Boisvert and Daniel Keane

The case of an Adelaide woman who died after being left by carers in a cane chair 24-hours-a-day for a year shows the community still does not value people with disabilities as much as it should, advocates say.
  • Ann Marie Smith died in ‘disgusting and degrading’ circumstances in April
  • She had been living in a cane chair in her house for at least a year
  • A royal commission into the treatment of people with disabilities is being held

They say neighbours and carers should have raised concerns with authorities before Ann Marie Smith died last month.

Ms Smith, 54, died on April 6 of severe septic shock, multi-organ failure, severe pressure sores, malnutrition and issues connected with her cerebral palsy.

She had not left her home in upmarket Kensington Park for “a number of years”, SA Police said.

Her death, which Detective Superintendent Des Bray described as happening in “disgusting and degrading circumstances”, is now the subject of a manslaughter investigation.

Tasmanian disability advocate Jane Wardlaw said the case showed the “cultural devaluation” of people with a disability that the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability was looking into.

“I think it’s absolutely horrific and I can’t understand what has gone wrong and I’m really concerned as a community … I thought that Australia had moved on,” she said.

“As neighbours and as carers and family members, we all have a role and a duty to make sure that our vulnerable people are really well looked after.”

The commission has suspended public hearings during the coronavirus pandemic.


Carer and company being questioned

Police last week searched offices of the company providing Ms Smith’s care and seized records.

On Friday, they attended the address of her carer in Hectorville, interviewed the carer, searched the carer’s home and seized items for investigation.

The carer has been suspended from their job.

“Who are these carers? What organisation is this and how has this been missed by the system and especially by the NDIS Quality and Safeguards [Commission]?” Ms Wardlaw asked.

“That’s what that’s been set up for — to make any complaints about suspicious behaviour and poor support practices.”

Neighbours said they had not seen Ms Smith in more than 10 years.

They assumed the carers who came every day were looking after her properly.

“We assumed that the carers were caring for her — that’s all you can know — they didn’t talk to us or anything,” one neighbour said.


Red flags not noticed in cases

Nicole Lee, a Melbourne-based anti-violence campaigner, who was herself subjected to a decade of abuse by her former husband who was also her disability carer, said somebody must have noticed what was going on.

“For something like this to happen in somebody’s home in 2020 is just absolutely shocking and appalling,” she said.

“The royal commission needs to be shining a spotlight on these cases and what went wrong, who failed, who didn’t say something when they were concerned about what was going on in this woman’s home?

Melbourne’s Nicole Lee says carers’ voices shouldn’t be placed above disabled people’s.(You Can’t Ask That)

She said red flags became “just flags” when it came to disabled people’s care, including in her own case.

“There was violence happening and people turned a blind eye,” Ms Lee said.

“And we need to stop turning that blind eye — we need to stop positioning that role of carers above disabled people and our voices.

“The normal people that would alert people that something wasn’t right seemed to go unquestioned.”

Premier Steven Marshall said the case raised deep concerns about the disability care system.

“It is a very big concern,” he said.

“We’ll be looking at it very carefully and we’ll do it very quickly.”