A retirement village has been criticised by a Coroner after an 85-year-old resident lay dead in his flat for two weeks before his decomposing body was found.

Richard Giese, a former top musician who was principal flautist with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra from 1962 to 1986, died of natural causes at his flat in Kilbirnie, Wellington.

He was only found when a neighbour, and fellow resident, queried why she hadn't heard the dulcet tones of his flute for several days and started making her own enquiries.

Mr Giese, who'd remained mentally sharp and fiercely independent, was found dead on March 8, 2010 - having died of a heart attack around two weeks earlier, Wellington regional Coroner Ian Roderick Smith has ruled in a new finding out today.


Rita Angus Retirement Village, run by Ryman Healthcare Group, offers its residents a regular check-up service, but Mr Giese had chosen not to take part.

But Coroner Smith says it's "unacceptable that a person may lie deceased in their home for some weeks".

He expressed concern that despite Mr Giese's lights being on 24/7, no-one went to check if he was okay, and that cleaners working in the hallways outside his flat didn't pick up on any smell of decomposition.

The case has prompted him to make some suggestions - stopping short of the more formal recommendations that coroners can release - so that the outcome is not repeated, especially given the demand for retirement village accommodation will continue to rise with the 'Baby Boomer' generation now getting on.

Ryman is now piloting electronic movement monitors to notify care staff if there has been a lack of any internal movement for 24 hours.

"Ryman were very keen to avoid the situation that occurred with Mr Giese arising again," a lawyer for the healthcare provider wrote to Coroner Smith.

But the group stopped short of implementing some of the coroner's suggestions.

The group says a formal review of how residents are coping would be viewed by them as "a threat to their independence".

Ryman also stressed that the position of independent residents is "quite different" from its rest home residents, who receive 24-hour care and where there is an expectation next of kin is consulted and informed on any decisions relating to their care.

"Independent residents very much value their privacy and independence," the group says.

Residents are also encouraged to keep an eye on their neighbours, and to contact staff if they have concerns.

The Retirement Villages Association said Coroner Smith's report was "balanced'' and acknowledged that residents are often independent and entitled to privacy and their own lifestyle choices.

"Residents treat their homes as their castles. They guard their independence fiercely,'' said executive director John Collyns.

"Close attention and medical assistance is available if they ask for it in conjunction with their doctor and family.

"Retirement village operators will do all they can to help residents - they offer formal daily checks such as phone calls or home visits, they have passive-checking systems, and they encourage neighbourhood watches where the residents take responsibility for looking after each other.''

The association said it had noted the coroner's comments and members will raise them with village residents.