A Tauranga man whose mother endured ''systemic failure'' by a rest home has been awarded $10,000 by the Disputes Tribunal.

Robert Love's mother Freda lived at the St Kilda Care Home in Cambridge for six months, leaving on January 18 this year after a series of complaints about care provided by the rest home owned by Bupa Care Services. She died in February at Waikato Hospital.

Disputes Tribunal referee J.P. Smith found there had been a ''systemic failure to provide his [Mr Love's] mother with a reasonable level of care''.

Love told the Bay of Plenty Times that he took civil action through the Disputes Tribunal after being frustrated by what he felt was the lack of satisfactory responses from authorities, including the Waikato District Health Board.

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He said the tribunal's decision was a ground-breaking order.

''Where I have gone, others can follow. It is possible to hold these providers of residential care to account in a timely and meaningful way.

"If this had happened to a small child, there would be all manner of inquiry. Why do we not do that for elderly? They are just as vulnerable," he said.

Love told the tribunal of 14 documented instances of a serious failure to provide for his mother's care.

The decision said many of the complaints related to Bupa's management of the catheter tube within Freda Love's bladder. It caused pain and discomfort.

Complaints outlined by the tribunal included Love arriving on the morning of October 24 to find his mother cold and distressed, her bed soaked in urine. The window was open, there was no heating, she was only covered in a thin shawl and the call bell was out of reach.

Bupa responded to him in a letter, saying both caregivers were new to St Kilda and the registered nurse should have taken a supervisory role and given them instructions about monitoring and reporting. The staff undertook training.

On January 1 this year Love found his mother in pain and distress. Her bed was soaked in urine and the catheter bag was on the floor. There was a six-hour delay until the problem was solved.

Bupa said that the bag should have been secured to the side of the bed. ''It acknowledged this requirement had been missed on occasions and accepted that management of the situation could have been more precise.''

Smith said Bupa accepted many of the factual complaints made by Love but said it met the relevant requirements for providing care and medication in a safe and timely way in audits by Health and Disability Auditing NZ.

He found that Bupa breached its contract by failing to provide services in a competent manner and with a reasonable level of care and skill and failing to provide an adequate level of staff to provide for her care.

''The level of delay Mrs Love experienced on a regular basis was unacceptable.''

Smith said Bupa did not provide any persuasive evidence to contradict Robert Love's evidence about hot and humid conditions inside his mother's room.

Smith found that Bupa ought to have known it was not able to provide the level of care for someone in Freda Love's circumstances.

Most of the $10,000 order was to repay the $52 a night premium paid for Freda Love's room. The tribunal also reimbursed some of the costs of the dehumidifier and air conditioning unit Robert Love put in her room.

Bupa spokeswoman Lisa Chambers said Bupa regretted the distress endured by Freda Love and apologised to the family. ''We treat these matters very seriously.''

''We have worked to put better practices and policies in place for our residents including improved management of continence care."

Waikato District Health Board health of older people manager Fiona Murdoch said corrective actions by St Kilda had been completed to the board's satisfaction. HealthCert had also audited St Kilda on issues highlighted by Robert Love. The audit noted two partial attainments - both rated low risk.


What else went wrong in the care of Freda Love:
• Internal catheter dislodged from bladder and leaking.
• Left flat on her back instead of bed being elevated.
• Kept waiting two hours and 50 minutes to use the toilet.
• Leaking catheter not resolved for more than 12 hours.
• Room temperatures not suitable for someone in her circumstances.
Source: Disputes Tribunal