DHB criticised over care of intellectually disabled teen

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

A district health board has been criticised by the Health and Disability Commissioner over the care of an intellectually disabled teenager at a community home where he was probably verbally and physically abused by a staff member.

In a decision released today, commissioner Anthony Hill said the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board's response to concerns about the boy's care fell well short of expected standards and put his safety at risk.

In April 2009, the 15-year-old with Down syndrome and autism was accepted into the care of a community home operated by a disability support service.

Within about three months, concerns about the care he was receiving from the team leader were brought to the attention of his parents by some of the carers.

In December 2009 two carers raised concerns with DHB staff about the team leader's behaviour.

Staff met with the boy's carers but there was no formal investigation into the complaint and the DHB did not inform the boy's parents of the carers' complaints and actions taken in response.

Throughout 2010, the boy's parents remained concerned about the care he was receiving.

In August that year, one of the boy's carers informed the parents of two incidents where he witnessed the team leader physically and verbally abuse the boy.

The parents complained to police and the National Health Board. Following the complaint to the National Health Board, the DHB conducted an investigation. The investigation was paper-based. No staff were interviewed, and the parents were not involved in the investigation process.

The review concluded that the complaints were not substantiated.

A subsequent review conducted between August 2011 and April 2012, which involved staff interviews, found there was a high probability that the team leader had physically and verbally abused the boy.

Mr Hill found it was more likely than not that the team leader was physically and verbally abusive towards the boy, and that her behaviour was intentional, direct, and repetitive.

"In particular, there is strong and compelling evidence that she kicked him, pulled his hair, and was regularly verbally abusive toward him," Mr Hill said.

The team leader's behaviour towards the boy was a serious departure from the expected standard of care and showed a flagrant disregard for the boy's rights.

"There can be no excuse for such behaviour. This is far from what we are entitled to expect from disability services in New Zealand," he said.

Mr Hill found that the DHB's response to the concerns raised about the care provided to the boy fell well short of the expected standard and put the boy's safety at risk.

While it was not wholly unreasonable for the National Health Board to rely on the response provided to it by the DHB, the parents had raised very serious concerns about the care being provided to the boy and the National Health Board's view on the adequacy of the DHB's response to those concerns was based on very little information, he found.

The team leader and the DHB were referred to the Director of Proceedings for the purpose of deciding whether any proceedings should be taken. The director was yet to make a decision on this case, Mr Hill said.


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