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Fran O'Sullivan: Daughter was not alone in miserably failing her mother

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Joanne Quinn was her elderly mother's sole caregiver, but why didn't others in the family find out how the old lady was faring? Photo / APN
Joanne Quinn was her elderly mother's sole caregiver, but why didn't others in the family find out how the old lady was faring? Photo / APN

I was sick to my stomach when I read the graphic details of the awful demise of 82-year-old Maureen Quinn: Carted into hospital with maggot-infested leg sores like a flyblown sheep; a face stained blue from her couch; her left toenails so long they had become embedded in her right leg. She died 36 days later of pneumonia.

It is unthinkable to me that any daughter - in this case 51-year old Joanne Quinn, who was the "sole caregiver" - would allow things to deteriorate to the point where her mother actually became physically imbedded in the couch she had lived on for years. It is beyond gross.

Joanne Quinn was this week found guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life for her elderly mother.

I can't help drawing parallels.

My own mother is 88 years old. She suffers the usual calamities of ageing with quiet stoicism and a determination to "keep going" that is shared by her still-vibrant female friends as they come into their 10th decade.

She also has a 90-year-old husband. They live in their own home.

But Maureen Quinn's situation was very different. Her husband had died. She didn't want to "go into a home". So, her children came to an arrangement where Joanne Quinn would be the sole caregiver living in their childhood home and be paid from her mother's pension.

I'm not for one moment excusing Joanne Quinn's neglect.

But a photograph in the Hawke's Bay Today shows a middle-aged woman whose very facial expression suggests she had been consumed with brooding resentment. The kind of resentment that can and does well up when a designated "caregiver" (often a daughter) is left by their siblings to care for an ageing and self-willed mother while they get on with their lives.

Age Concern reports that its abuse and neglect prevention services receive more than 2000 referrals for cases of suspected abuse every year. It would seem rational to expect that number is likely to increase with more people living longer and increased pressure going on those who have stayed behind or returned to New Zealand to care for their parents.

Such caregiving can be an exhausting and 24-hour-a-day job.

It's obvious that Joanne Quinn's siblings did not pay sufficient attention to what was going on with either their sister or their mother after the caregiving arrangement was put in place.

Maureen Quinn herself touched on this when she said on admittance to hospital: "I can't believe I had eight children and I've ended up in this state."

So when the local newspaper reported that Maureen's granddaughter "lashed out at the shocking neglect the pensioner had suffered", I was left questioning why the family didn't do something about it?

Trena Quinn had told the newspaper that whenever she asked to speak to her grandmother, her aunt would refuse or say she was sleeping. "If you banged on the door, she [Joanne] would say she was calling the police. None of us could get in to see nana," she said.

The windows to the home had been "nailed shut" and the garden had become a jungle.

"If we knew what she was doing in there to nana we would have busted through that door any way we could."

My question is: "Why didn't you bust it in anyway?"

This was not a normal situation.

American Bette Ann Moskowitz has written extensively from her time as a long-term or aged care ombudsman.

In The room at the end of the hall - An Ombudsman's Notebook, Moskowitz observed: "One mother can take care of ten children, but ten children can't take care of one mother when she gets old."

Maureen Quinn knew that.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

Fran O'Sullivan

A columnist for the NZ Herald

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